At age 104, San Marcos resident Dorothy “Dottie” Coleman is one of about 72,000 centenarians in the U.S. according to the National Center for Health Statistics in a 2014 survey.
But to anyone who knows her, she is one in a million. Ask the members of the Lake San Marcos Kiwanis Club, where she plays the piano to kick off meetings. Or ask teens from the San Marcos Youth Symphony who gave a community concert with her last December at which Coleman received a standing ovation.
“What inspires me and the Kiwanis members is how she takes each day one day at a time — the worries and anxieties that weigh others down just roll off her back,” said Jerry Mason, Lake San Marcos Kiwanis president. “Every time I am with her she uplifts my spirits.”
For her recent 104th birthday, the Lake San Marcos Kiwanis threw a party at which Coleman played the piano. She plays mostly from memory, and her favorites include pieces by Chopin and Claire de Lune along with big band hits of the 1930s and 1940s.
“Ms. Coleman’s mind is clear and her fingers still can dance on top of the keyboard,” said Hurlink Vongsachang, co-president of the San Marcos Youth Orchestra.
Coleman started playing the piano in church nearly a century ago when she was about 7. She was born April 4, 1912, and grew up in a small town in southern Pennsylvania, later attending a teacher’s college and marrying Les Coleman in 1934. The couple was married 62 years and Coleman cared for him when he was ailing in his later years until he died 20 years ago.
Coleman’s first trip to California was a cross-country car journey in a Model A Ford in the mid 1930s. Later she returned when her husband, a lieutenant colonel, was stationed at the former Fort Ord Army Base on Monterey Bay, where she and other teachers helped young soldiers work on their high school diplomas. She and her husband moved to San Marcos in 1996.
With a zest for travel, Coleman went on an African safari when she was 86 and traveled to India at 88. She started writing and publishing stories at age 91 after taking a writing class at the San Marcos Senior Center.
She lives independently and stopped driving voluntarily at age 101 when she broke her hip. She has a daughter, three grandchildren and five great grandchildren, some of whom have taken piano lessons from her.
On her birthday, Coleman said, “The best present I have is that I still have all my marbles.”