Maisie McPherson, who will turn 101 in October, is the oldest member of the Church of the Isles.
Photo by JULIANA A. TORRES
Church of the Isles members, from left, Dolores McCoy, Alice Taylor and Virginia and Martin Forster Sr., gather in the church library June 4. Taylor, who recently turned 100, is the volunteer manager of the library. McCoy will turn 100 in August. Martin Forster, already 100, and Virginia, 96, have been married 72 years and are charter members of the church.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Pastor Jim Rapp jokingly promotes that one of the fringe benefits of membership at Church of the Isles is a long life, perhaps even to 100 years old.
Among the congregation of about 160, there are 30 members in their 90s and another four who are close to or beyond the 100 mark.
“They’re active. They make lots of friends. And they mean a lot to us,” Rapp said. “What amazes me is how active our nonagenarians are. Everyone comes to church on Sunday morning. Many of them drive themselves. Just a small handful are considered home-bound.”
The oldest member of the church, Maisie McPherson, was born on Oct. 5, 1911. She lived by herself until moving to an assisted living facility just a few weeks ago. She didn’t think much of turning 100 last year.
“I took it for granted. That’s just the way I am,” she said in a light Scottish accent.
For her, moderation is the key to a long life, she said. The retired schoolteacher moved to Florida in 1980s and – somewhat accidentally, she said – started teaching again, this time at Cottingham School in Indian Rocks Beach. After the pastor from the church next door participated in the school’s commencement ceremony, McPherson decided to visit his church, the Church of the Isles.
“And then when I heard him and saw that church, I just discovered I wanted to join them,” said the woman who grew up a Baptist in Scotland.
The Church of the Isles, which later bought the school next door, belongs to the United Church of Christ denomination and promotes a welcoming atmosphere that instills longtime loyalty, say its members.
“(It’s) the friendliness,” said soon-to-be centenarian Dolores McCoy. “The caring of one another and the good sermons we hear every Sunday morning.”
McCoy said she hopes her upcoming 100th birthday in August is quiet, though she admits that her family intends to fly in and to take her to the same restaurant where they celebrated her 90th and 95th birthdays.
“I just thank the Lord every day that I can do some good deed that lifts somebody’s spirits up,” she said.
Rapp said that McCoy is a prayer warrior in the church, keeping long notes on prayer requests as well as a daily journal, written in careful tiny penmanship.
“The neat thing about Dolly is that she comes to the prayer breakfast every Tuesday. Faithfully. And she believes in the power of prayer like none other,” her pastor said.
McCoy moved to Florida on Jan. 2, 1970 with her husband, Robert, who has since passed away.
“The first Sunday that we were here, we walked over to the church, and we stayed here ever since,” McCoy said.
Alice Taylor and her husband retired and moved to Belleair some years later in 1979. Taylor, who celebrated her 100th birthday most recently, on May 17, still runs and organizes the volunteers for the church library, which is named the Taylor Library in her honor.
“The neat thing about Alice is she keeps the circulation of the library going. Most church libraries, the books just gather dust. But here, she gets to know somebody and what kind of books they like, she’ll come up to you and put a book in your hand,” Rapp said. “I am so proud of Alice.”
The church is known for reading as well its friendliness, Rapp said. The library is a self-supporting ministry. Taylor and her volunteers sell old books and use the proceeds to buy new ones.
Taylor said she began helping out in the library because there was a need.
She recommends continual work as the key to longevity.
“I’ve worked all my life,” she said, explaining that she began working after a year of college at age 19.
She started working in a department store and eventually became a buyer of ladies’ dresses.
The oldest man in the congregation is Martin Forster Sr., who was born April 1, 1912. Forster and his 96-year-old wife, Virginia, make up the oldest couple in the church, married 72 years.
They also are charter members, involved in the foundation of the church. The members began building the Church of the Isles in 1953. The sanctuary was dedicated in 1956.
Forster said he moved to Florida after selling his parents’ pharmacy in 1949.
“I was trying to find a change,” he said.
He delivered newspapers, including the St. Petersburg Times and the Evening Independent, and was the manager of a convenience store for about 18 years.
He would recommend those wanting to reach the age of 100 to eat good food and “behave themselves.”
“Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t curse. Don’t do a darn thing,” he said with a laugh.
Forster lost his sight in 1995 and says it’s his one regret. But being 100 doesn’t feel very different than 99, he said.
“Martin Forster is quite an amazing individual,” said Rapp. “Except for the fact that he’s blind, he’s all there, mentally and physically, emotionally, spiritually. The only reason he’s in a chair is for easy accessibility.”
The Forsters hope to celebrate their 75th anniversary together, followed by Virginia Forster’s 100th birthday.
“Oh I’m very proud of them,” said their daughter Ginny Forster, who takes care of them. “I let people know how old he is.”
Rapp, who has been minister of the Church of the Isles since November 2009, started a new ministry to celebrate the nonagenarians in his congregation once he realized how many there were. The “goldenaires” used to meet once a month, now it’s once a quarter.
“We’ve celebrated anybody’s birthday that month and anybody who’s joining the club,” Rapp said.
A local funeral home donates a DVD birthday tribute for each goldenaire member. An attorney who’s a member sponsors the meal for the event.
“We want to honor them,” Rapp said of his goldenaires. “We’re really happy about it.”
This article was published June 21 in Tampa Bay Newspapers' special edition, Generations available in its entirety at e-edition.tbnweekly.com. Free sign up required.