SHREWSBURY: CENTURY TWO, iPAD IN HAND

Centenarian Carlotta Niles at her Shrewsbury home. (Photo by Wil Fulton. Click to enlarge)

By WIL FULTON

Born to a silent-film star, Carlotta Niles of Shrewsbury has no plans of slowing down.

Or so it’s tempting to say. From daily drives in her Mercedes convertible to traveling around the world, to learning new languages and mastering bridge with help from her trusty iPad, it’s safe to say Niles is still living her life to the fullest.

Except for the hot-air ballooning. At 100 years old, she finds she’s had to cut back on that.

Sitting in her stunning backyard garden, Niles – who marked her centennial on May 27  – talked with redbankgreen about her long life, all it has encompassed, and how she has watched Shrewsbury change over the years.

The daughter of famed silent-movie actress, June Elvidge, Niles was born in Manhattan in 1913 – the same year as Richard Nixon, Rosa Parks and Vince Lombardi, and seven years before women had the right to vote. She grew up mainly in Matawan with her maternal grandmother while her mother pursued a sparkling silent-movie career.

She met her husband, Jonathan, a native New Yorker and writer for the Wall Street Journal, while he was vacationing at the Jersey Shore, and married him in 1931, one year after graduating from Long Branch High School.

The newlyweds built a house on Sycamore Avenue in Shrewsbury, where she still lives today, and raised three children – Carly, Jonathan Jr., and Diana – who then spawned six grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren, most of whom still live in the area. Her husband passed away in 1987.

Niles has remained active well into senior years. As she walks around her garden without the use of a cane or walker, she recounts her weekly routine, consisting of bridge clubs, lunch dates in her garden, regular visits from her progeny, more bridge, and drives in her Mercedes – though that might change soon.

“I have a ’52 MG convertible that I just had fixed up and restored,” she said, happily. “I haven’t driven it yet. I need to work up a little nerve first. It’s more difficult to drive – but I will. I’ll drive it to my bridge game in Long Branch, I think.”

Her favorite activity, aside from bridge?

“My favorite thing to do, I think, is to go hot-air ballooning,” she said, matter-of-factly. “I’ve been about nine times in seven different countries. I had the most amazing times of my life doing so.”

While her  experiences flying in hot air balloons in France, Kenya, and Austria were all pleasurablele, she did have a close call in England, she said.

“It was the only time we had any trouble,” she said, with a sly smile, “They are usually very safe, mind you, but we caught the end of a storm and it flipped us while we were landing. Luckily, we were all okay.”

She has visited five of the seven continents – “I never made it to Australia or Antarctica, unfortunately” – and has traveled to Europe as recently as several years ago with a few of her grandchildren, though she said a recent trip to France and Russia would probably be her last.

“I have enjoyed so much of the world,” she said, “but my last trip, just a few years ago, I had to go some places in a wheelchair, which I never do, and it wasn’t the same for me. I’ve done my fair share of traveling, spending many summers in England and France, but I think that might be it for me.”

When not globetrotting, Niles has watched Shrewsbury change from her elaborate yet rustic Sycamore Avenue home where she’s lived for nearly 80 years.

“I remember when my children were growing up, they could stand in the street and throw a ball around, no problem,” she said. “Now, sometimes there are so many cars coming down this street I can hardly pull out when I need to drive somewhere.

“But times go by, and you need to adjust.”

And adjust to the times she has, using her iPad to research bridge strategies and see how she could have improved her hands after she gets home from games.

“I wouldn’t say I’m an expert at the iPad,” she said, “but I do think it’s wonderful. You can look up almost anything. If you have a question, you can answer it just by clicking a button. That’s truly amazing.”

Niles also said she is amazed at how easy it is to learn new languages with the help of modern technology.

“I’ve always been competent at French, but I’ve been kind of embarrassed to speak it while I was over there,” she said. “Now, you can just type in, or say a word or phrase, and it will just translate it for you right there.”

Recently, Shrewsbury’s Mayor Donald Burden and the borough council honored Niles’ centennial, presenting her with a plaque and a wave of congratulations and accolades.

“It’s amazing how nice people treat you when you turn 100,” she said with a laugh. “I recommend it to everyone.”

Niles, who has outlived nearly all of her contemporaries, said she has much to be thankful for.

“I know I am very fortunate to have done the things I’ve done in my life, and I have always had a wonderful family,” she said.

When asked if she had any regrets, Niles leaned back in her chair, and considered the question.

“Well, I had to give up playing tennis three years ago, which was really too bad,” she said. “I loved that game.”