Ja Hyung Lee is all smiles during his 109th birthday party Friday (Sept. 20) at Amenida Seniors’ Community in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

PHOTOS: 109th birthday party for ‘amazing’ Surrey man who still shops on his own and plays bingo

Ja Hyung Lee wore a suit and tie to his special event at retirement home in Newton

With a tip of his fedora hat, Ja Hyung Lee smiled and thanked everybody for coming to his 109th birthday party.

On Friday afternoon (Sept. 20), the special event was held at Amenida Seniors Community, the Newton retirement home where Lee has lived in recent years.

He doesn’t speak much English, so the birthday boy stood and read a speech he wrote in Korean, moments before a crowd of more than 100 people sang “Happy Birthday” to him, and ate cake.

Lee wore a suit and tie to the party, attended by politicians, community leaders, family and friends.

“He still walks mostly unassisted, goes to our exercise class and plays bingo every week,” said Sheri Brown, who manages the Amenida facility, on 68th Avenue.

“You would never know he was 109.”

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Lee was born on Aug. 27, 1910 – the year of the first public radio broadcast, according to wikipedia.org, and when the first horror movie (Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein) was released in theatres.

In Korea, Lee operated a jewelry store until his retirement nearly 40 years ago, when he moved to Sao Paulo, Brazil, for about a decade, before the city’s pollution proved too much.

“He told us he wanted to live in a nicer country,” recalled his granddaughter, Eun Song Choi, who travelled from Champaign, Illinois, for the birthday party. “From what I remember, he visited Canada and also Australia, and he decided Canada would be his home, in Vancouver, and now in Surrey. He came here (to Canada) when he was around 80 years old.”

Today, Lee has three sons, two daughters and also 15 grandchildren, among other family members.

“He cannot even count how many great-grandchildren or great-great-grandchildren,” said Brown, who noted that Lee’s wife died seven years ago at the age of 92.

Attendees at Lee’s birthday party included Senator Yonah Martin, Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains and Peter Chung, who owns Amenida Seniors Community.

Bains said he’s been coming to Lee’s birthday parties at the facility since Lee was “the young age of 105.”

For Lee and the crowd, Bains read a birthday greeting from Premier John Horgan.

“Your 109 years is truly remarkable,” Horgan wrote, “and I have no doubt that you have many amazing stories to share as you gather with your loved ones for a delicious Korean lunch at celebration.”

At the party, Lee sat next to a table full of baked goods and fruit, including watermelon carved into shape of the number 109. Behind him, a couple dozen helium balloons touched the ceiling. Following speeches, a group of women danced as Korean music played.

“We hold birthday parties here for residents who are over 100 – that’s when we’ll do a special event for them,” Brown noted.

“We actually have three residents who are over 100 years of age. One is 103, one is 106 and then we have Mr. Lee, who is 109,” she added.

“He is the most dapper old gentleman you’ll ever meet,” Brown continued. “He dresses very well, and one of the things he was saying was about just how working hard put him through life, and treated him well, as well as exercising every single day.”

Choi said her grandfather has been “a lifelong learner” and still carries with him a book about vocabulary.

“He also still goes shopping on his own, and takes the bus,” she said. “He’s amazing. He was still riding a bike until about eight years ago.”

She last saw him during his 106th birthday celebration, when his family took Lee on an Alaskan cruise – something he’d always wanted to do, she said.

”It’s just amazing for us every year, to see him make another milestone, another birthday,” Choi said. “I wasn’t able to come to all of his birthday parties, but I really had to come this year, to see him and help celebrate. It’s very special.

She added, with a smile: “Everybody tells me I must have good genes if my grandfather can live to 109, and I think I must.”



tom.zillich@surreynowleader.com

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Ja Hyung Lee prepares to celebrate his 109th birthday during a party Friday (Sept. 20) at Amenida Seniors’ Community in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zillich)

Ja Hyung Lee (middle) with Surrey-Newton MLA Harry Bains (left) and Peter Chung, owner of Amenida Seniors’ Community, at Lee’s 109th birthday party at the facility in Newton on Friday (Sept. 20). (Photo: Tom Zillich)

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