At 92 years old, Bishop resident James Hurlburt has witnessed the invention of and American infatuation with radio and television, the long reign of Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees, the Great Depression, seven American wars, the Civil Rights Movement, the moon landing and much, much more.
A resident of Sterling Heights Assisted Living Facility, Hurlburt and his seven brothers and sisters were recently featured in TIME Magazine, but the focus of the piece wasn’t about the lifetime of experiences they shared. Rather, the article looked at the environment in which they’ve lived and explored the secret to their longevity.
Hurlburt and his siblings are taking part in the Long Life Family Study, sponsored by the National Institute on Aging, which is trying to find out if the secret to a long, happy life is in one’s genes, or if it is rooted somewhere in the lifestyle choices people make.
For Hurlburt, born June 4, 1918, that’s not an easily answered question. It’s obvious that he and his siblings, ages 79-96, share common traits – they are all active and artistically inclined and in fairly good health – but no one can say for sure if their longevity can be attributed to good life choices, or good genetics.
“We are a family that stuck together,” Hurlburt said. “We all tried to stay out of trouble and we all loved each other and we always had God, we prayed and said Rosaries, and tried not to be bad.”
Hurlburt moved to Bishop from Mammoth Lakes, where his sons, Dennis and Bob live, last May. Most of his siblings live on the East Coast, in Boston, Maine and Rhode Island.
He recently had the opportunity to travel to Boston for a family reunion.
“It was nice, because it may be the last time we get a chance to all get together because we’re getting up there in age, but somehow, none of us act like we’re old. I think that helps us,” Hurlburt said of he and his siblings.
Hurlburt himself, who gets around well on his own and without the aid of a cane, plays piano, writes poetry and short stories, which have been featured in The Inyo Register, and continues to drive and often visits his sons in Mammoth Lakes.
He said his siblings are also very active, participating in social clubs and various hobbies.
Hurlburt has also found companionship at Sterling Heights in Bonnie Hollis, his girlfriend.
“We join in the activities here, and I have a car, so we go out and drive around, it’s really a good joining. Her husband died too, and we are a good match because we kind of fill that gap,” he said.
Vivianne Adams, activities director at Sterling Heights, said Hurlburt and Hollis always participate in activities with other citizens at Sterling Heights when they are at the facility, but, she added, they are often out on their own, visiting Mammoth Lakes or Hollis’ son in Reno.
“They’re both very active,” Adams said. “James gets up every morning and exercises. He’s very strong and healthy.”
Hurlburt also said that his sisters had healthy marriages to “good men,” which may attribute to their good health now.
Hurlburt also attributes his longevity to a positive outlook that he says his family developed in part due to the Great Depression.
“We were always looking out for each other, our family and neighbors,” he said. “I think that was good for us. We always enjoyed life as kids because we could always go out and play, and pick fruit. We never had good shoes, that was a hardship of the Depression, but we had a good family.”
Hurlburt said those Depression years taught he and his siblings the value of money.
“We don’t go out and buy 10 pairs of shoes, because we don’t need them,” he said. “I don’t overspend. I only buy things I need. I’m not cheap, but I buy sensibly. We all have that from the Depression.”
Though the secrets to living a long life may remain a mystery, with all they have been through, Hurlburt and his siblings are a testament to the importance of family and close relationships.
Over the years a country has separated him and his brothers and sisters, but Hurlburt continues to keep in touch and the support he receives and gives his family surely shines through as he speaks about his past experiences.