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Living the good life at 107, with a little help from friends

When you listen to 107-year-old Art Janssen talk, you have to suspend disbelief that he has passed the century mark. He’s gregarious, up-to-date on current events thanks to a daily newspaper habit, and remains socially active, with the help of some dear friends like Denise Thompson.

Before selling her business Trips 4-U and retiring in 2016, Thompson served as a travel agent for Janssen and his girlfriend Dolly (whom he met after the death of his wife Juanita in 1986). Thompson arranged many day trips as well as longer sojourns for the couple.

Through the years, what started as a travel agent-client relationship has grown to be an abiding friendship. Now that Janssen suffers from vision impairment, hearing loss, and arthritis in his knees, Thompson helps him out by managing his money, driving him to appointments, and taking him on outings, from lunch at local restaurants to trips to the Monterey Aquarium.

She also recently contacted Council on Aging for assistance in identifying other assisted living facilities that might serve as home for Janssen after some conditions at the place where he currently lives created concerns. “We did go to see one; it was very nice. He’s had some issues here, but for now it’s okay.”

COA also helped connect Janssen with Chris Bingham, Sonoma County Veterans Service Officer, to explore what assistance the Veteran’s Administration could provide to him.

Through their time together, Thompson has heard many stories about Janssen’s early life when Santa Rosa’s population had not yet topped 10,000. “Art is like a history book,” she said. “He never ceases to amaze me.”

Now, as a vivacious centenarian who is clearly happy to live in the moment while still sharing his amazingly detailed memories of the past, Janssen enjoys a bit of local celebrity. Press Democrat columnist Chris Smith has written several articles about him, the latest of which appeared in October 2016. “I was in La Gare restaurant with friends,” recalled Janssen.

“After we finished our dinner, this couple came up to the table and wanted to know if I was Art Janssen, and I said yes. Apparently they had read the article in the paper on Oct. 31, so they said, “we’re going to pay for your dinner.”

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