At 101, His Secret to Happiness? Making New Friends.

From a Washington Post story by Sydney Page headlined “At 101, his secret to happiness? Making new friends.”:

Paul Snyder walks around Kensington, Md., wearing a hat that reads: “MADE IN 1921.” It’s a good conversation starter.

At almost 102 years old, Snyder believes the secret to successful aging is making new friends. He befriends people wherever he goes: the grocery store, the doctor’s office, church, the nail salon. Many people in his Parkwood neighborhood call him “Grandpa Paul.”

“At 101, most of your close friends have gone by,” said Snyder, who has lived in the same home since 1951. “But you can keep making new ones.”

Snyder’s circle of pals grows weekly. Some of his fondest bonds have been formed in recent years.

His friendship with Valerie Ramsey, for instance, began at his dentist’s office a few years ago.

When Snyder became a patient at the dental office of Mark St. George, where Ramsey is the office manager, they immediately hit it off, and they realized they live down the road from each other. Now, they talk several times a week on the phone and meet up in person when their schedules align.

“He’s a charmer,” said Ramsey, 57. “He has a magnetic personality. He is just so up all the time.”

Kira Lueders is another example of a relatively new friendship in Snyder’s life.

Lueders is president of the Parkwood Residents Association, and from a local email group, she learned that it was Snyder’s 100th birthday on Dec. 5, 2021. Although she had never met him, she decided to hand-deliver a card to him, something scores of people in the area did, including more than 70 children.

When Lueders delivered her card, the two got to talking.

“I realized that he was a bird lover like I, so I started sharing my bird magazines with him, and sending him emails about things that would interest him,” Lueders said. “He is interested in everything.”

Lueders, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1967, now regularly visits with Snyder at his house.

“He’s a very, very engaging man,” Lueders said. “He really cares about people.”

“I’m 83 myself,” she added. “And he’s an inspiration for what a much older age could be.”

Snyder, who grew up in Pennsylvania, served as a master sergeant in the Army during World War II, and then worked as assistant secretary of the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Cooperative Association for several decades.

He has lived alone since his wife, Kay, died in 2005. They were married for more than 60 years and have two sons together — Dave, 76, who lives in California, and Mike, 72, who lives in Texas.

Snyder starts every morning the same way: after waking up, he does a series of exercises from bed.

“I’ll do the bicycle exercise, then I’ll do the bridge exercise, and I’ll do a partial sit-up and hold it,” he said, noting that he does the bicycle exercise 225 times.

He uses a walker to assist with balance, but he calls himself lucky to be healthy. “I don’t have any medical complaints,” he said.

Once his workout is complete, Snyder prepares eggs — he’ll make poached, hard-boiled or scrambled. Sometimes he’ll cook up French toast or pancakes, usually accompanied by a side of sausage or bacon.

“Breakfast is my best meal,” Snyder said.

He tries to fill his days with friends and family, and although his sons don’t live nearby, they have a standing three-way FaceTime call on Tuesdays and Fridays.

“That’s another thing that keeps me going. My boys,” Snyder said.

His sons taught him how to use an iPad — which helps him stay in touch with faraway friends and family members, including his granddaughter and two great-grandsons. He also tunes in virtually to services at the Silver Spring Church of Christ, where he has been a member for 72 years. He has many friends there.

Parishioner Jackie Gill, 69, who met Snyder at church in 1990, became fast friends with him, despite their 32-year age difference. “I couldn’t ask for a better friend than Paul,” Gill said, adding that his wife, Eleanor, also is a close friend of Snyder’s.

“Age has nothing to do with it,” Gill said. “I’ll do anything for him because it’s a joy for me to do it.”

Since Snyder stopped driving last year, Gill offers to take him wherever he needs to go. Gill said Snyder’s open and curious mind-set is what attracts people to him.

“He is just genuine,” Gill said. “He is warm to everyone.”

While church has been a significant hub for making friends, Snyder said, he sees every destination as an opportunity to mingle.

Maintaining “strong ties” — or the relationships we have with family and close friends — is important to Snyder, but he also understands the value of what sociologists call “weak ties” — casual acquaintances, such as neighbors, store workers and bank tellers. Daily interactions like these, experts say, have significant effects on health and well-being.

Every few months, Snyder stops in at A&L Nails on Armory Avenue for a pedicure. “They all recognize me. Whenever I get there, I say, ‘Grandpa Paul is here,’” Snyder said. “I love it.”

The feeling seems to be mutual.

“He is very happy and very nice,” said Ana Nguyen, the owner of the salon. “He keeps coming back. Now he brings his son here.”

Snyder has been building friendships with people in the Parkwood community for decades. Every spring, he invites neighbors to come see the fuchsia azaleas in his garden. He also keeps a basket of his sons’ old toys that he brings out whenever young children come by with their parents to greet him.

Many of Snyder’s more recent relationships started after his 100th birthday, which was featured on the front page of the Kensington Neighbors magazine in February 2022 with the headline “Meet Paul Snyder!”

Ron Wahl read the story, and when he realized they were both raised in Meyersdale, Pa., he wrote Snyder a letter and included his contact information. Snyder called him as soon as he got it.

“He invited me over to come visit, and that was the beginning of our friendship,” said Wahl, 82, who lives three blocks away from Snyder.

Montgomery County recently recognized residents older than 100 in May, and Snyder was invited to a celebratory luncheon. He also received a citation from the County Council in August for his “extraordinary journey through 101 years of life.”

Jeff Griffith, 79, who met Snyder around the time he turned 100, is another close buddy. Griffith writes Parkwood’s newsletter, which included Snyder in a “Meet Your Neighbor” feature.

“It’s easy to like him,” said Griffith, who regularly invites Snyder to have dinner with him and his wife. They also often deliver baked goods and fresh produce to Snyder’s house.

Snyder’s sharp humor and bits of wisdom are part of what draws people to him, Griffith said.

“You just got to look at the bright side,” Snyder said. “If you have a problem, deal with that problem. But don’t let the problem deal you.”

Snyder is realistic about the challenges and uncertainty of getting older, saying he tries to take life one day at a time. Mostly, though, he’s just happy to be here.

“Everybody has been so nice,” he said.

Sydney Page is a staff reporter who writes for The Washington Post’s Inspired Life section, a collection of stories about humanity. She has been a contributor to The Post since 2018.

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