Mary MacEwan can count herself among a select - but growing - group.

At 101 years of age - her birthday was April 19 - MacEwan is part of the centenarian community in Tucson and will be among 96 men and women honored for reaching or being about to reach the century mark this year.

The 26th Annual Salute to Centenarians is 11 a.m. Friday at Tucson Medical Center's Marshall Conference Center.

Community leaders will honor MacEwan and about 60 other centenarians who are expected to attend the event, which is sponsored by Pima Council on Aging and TMC.

Aging population grows

According to a 2010 census report, there were 53,364 people age 100 and older living in the United States, compared to 32,194 centenarians in 1980.

In Arizona in 2010, there were 832 centenarians, according to the census. The Pima Council on Aging does not have steadfast statistics on the growth of centenarians in Tucson.

However, the number continues to rise, said Adina Wingate, a spokeswoman for the council.

Over the last decade, the Census Bureau found that the single fastest growing age cohort is 85 and older nationwide, Wingate said.

As people live longer, society and families will be challenged by health-care costs and being caregivers to their loved ones.

"About 50 percent of 'health' is thought to be related to lifestyle," said Jane Mohler, associate director of the Arizona Center on Aging, in an email interview. Medical advances also play a role, said Mohler, who is a professor at the University of Arizona Colleges of Medicine, Pharmacy, Public Health and Nursing.

Healthy, independent living

MacEwan stands out among centenarians - she is in relatively good health, active in the community and lives independently.

"I have some problems, but everything is under control. My eyes are bad, but I wear glasses. I can't hear, but I use a hearing aid. I have high blood pressure, but I take medicine and it is under control. And I have aches and pains but I still can move. My heart is OK," said MacEwan, who cut the interview short Sunday because she had friends at her house and needed to tend to her company.

It was understandable. MacEwan's life is full.

The pacifist is able to stay active in the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. She hosts monthly board meetings at her home and still demonstrates for peace - holding signs on street corners - when needed.

"I eat healthy and listen to my doctor," said MacEwan, explaining what she attributes to living to a century.

"I feel old, but I feel pretty good. All my friends are younger than I am. They are five or 10 years younger," MacEwan said. "I did not expect to live this long. There is no one in my family who has lived this long. But people are living longer today."

When this celebration began in 1987, there were 15 centenarians honored, recalled the Rev. Robin Klaehn-Quilliam, a former TMC chaplain who created the original event.

"We wanted to honor the fastest-growing generation in the United States, and raise the level of awareness in the community about centenarians," Klaehn-Quilliam said.

The number of centenarians at the event grew during the years. In 2000, 29 were honored at the celebration and in 2008 there were 47, according to Star clips.

MacEwan, who was born in 1912 in St. Louis, Mo., said she and her late husband, Alan MacEwan, raised two sons. Arthur MacEwan, 71, is a retired professor of economics from the University of Massachusetts, and Andy MacEwan, 73, is a businessman in California.

Mary MacEwan has seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. She and Alan moved to Tucson in 1968 after Alan, a botanist, was offered a teaching position at the University of Arizona.

Expensive health care

Even though MacEwan is doing well health-wise, people over the age of 65, who only account for 12 percent of the U.S. population, undergo almost 40 percent of all surgical procedures, Mohler said.

The elderly also account for 35 percent of hospital stays, 38 percent of emergency medical responses and 90 percent of nursing-home use, said Mohler.

"Nursing home and home health-care expenditures doubled during 1990 to 2001, reaching approximately $132 billion; of this public programs (Medicaid and Medicare) paid 57 percent, and patients or their families paid 25 percent," Mohler wrote in the email.

There are 66 million caregivers in the U.S. who provide care to someone who is ill, disabled or aged, said Mohler. About 23 percent of those ages 45 to 64 identify themselves as elder care providers, she said.

Caregiver services were valued at $450 billion per year in 2009, up from $375 billion in 2007, Mohler said.

"There is an emergent need for additional health-care personnel to address the medical needs of a growing population of older Americans with complex medical problems," Mohler said.

Did you know?

Mayor Jonathan Rothschild issued a proclamation declaring May as Older Americans Month.

Contact reporter Carmen Duarte at 573-4104 or