AMESBURY - It was a typical birthday celebration, as guests clamored around the petite birthday girl at the head of the room. A bevy of cards and presents surrounded her, and several cameras flashed like strobe lights as the candles on the cake were blown out.But this birthday girl is anything but typical, although she'd humbly have you think otherwise. Millie Chase was celebrating her 104th birthday yesterday at the Heritage Towers in Amesbury."I just live like anybody," she said bashfully, barely audible above the celebration around her.But when you consider only 1 in 9,000 people will live to age 100, that she lives so normally is quite extraordinary.Despite passing the century mark, Chase, who has spent the last 91 years living in Amesbury, is a model of graceful aging. Her eyesight is helped by glasses and her hearing boosted by a hearing aid, but otherwise her mind and senses remain sharp. As she gracefully nibbled at a piece of her blue and white birthday cake, she displayed dexterity that some people decades her junior would envy. Despite her seniority, Millie is soft-spoken and modest, reluctant to divulge details of her life - not because she wasn't proud but because she didn't see her accomplishments as that extraordinary.Her family begs to differ. Her grand-daughter-in-law, Bonnie Miller, urged Chase to speak about her experiences in World War I. She was 12 years old when World War I erupted in Europe, and at just 15 she went to work in a munitions factory that made shells for the military."I worked on the inspection line," Chase said slowly and with great eloquence. "I made sure they were perfect."Her daughter and fellow Heritage Towers resident, Lenita Miller, then asked her mother to mention the time she worked in a machine shop at the Bailey Company during World War II. She also spent several years working in shoe shops.Lenita Miller said that her mother, known as an excellent cook, even had a significant role for her family during one of the toughest of times."Even during the Depression," Miller said, "she made some wonderful meals for us."Chase had no secret to unveil about her longevity, but thought of a few things that could have contributed."I just worked hard all my life," Chase said, "and had all my sicknesses when I was young."As the room buzzed around her, Chase sat contently at a round table wearing a crisp white sweater. She had her great-granddaughter, Alyison Miller, not yet age 2, on her lap as the youngster licked the remnants of cake frosting off her fingers. Lenita Miller sat to their left, and Chase's great-grandson Joshua Miller and his fiance Erin also joined her at the head table, as well as Alyison and Joshua's father John Miller and his wife Bonnie.In addition to her family and friends, Amesbury's eldest resident was also visited by some out of the ordinary party guests. Rep. Mike Costello, D-Newburyport, presented Chase with a citation from the Massachusetts House of Representatives in recognition of her 104 years of life. Chase was also given a citation from Amesbury Mayor Thatcher Kezer, who joined the party for coffee and cookies, and led the dining room in a rousing version of "Happy Birthday."All the attention was a bit overwhelming for Chase, who said she "had a steady stream of visits all morning." But her friends at the Heritage Towers couldn't help but celebrate with her because they enjoy her so much."She's a peach," said resident Jeanne Cook. "She'll do anything for anybody."Pat Blonda, an organizer of Chase's birthday bash, couldn't say enough about the popular resident."She is just a love bug," Blonda said. "We just adore her."Judging from her delight at her birthday celebration, Chase is happy at her home in the Heritage Towers, where she and her daughter each have their own apartments. She said her days are very quiet now, and that she doesn't do much anymore, but she still enjoys knitting and cooking."It's been the best 10 years of her life," Lenita Miller said on behalf of her mother. "They're wonderful to her here."
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