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You don’t turn 102 every day, so Narberth Rice’s family celebrated him with music, dancing and cars

Narberth Rice poses with granddaughter Harriet Rice at his 102nd birthday celebration. (Layla A. Jones/WHYY)

Narberth Rice poses with granddaughter Harriet Rice at his 102nd birthday celebration. (Layla A. Jones/WHYY)

Korean War veteran Narberth Rice’s 102nd birthday fell right alongside Memorial Day weekend this year, and his family decided to do something special.

In partnership with Rice’s Oak Street Health caretakers, his family threw their patriarch a car promenade and outdoor dance party at his West Philadelphia home. Organizers said 102 cars participated to help Rice celebrate 102 years of life.

“We wanted to show him that he’s loved and people care about him,” said Rice’s granddaughter Erica Rice.

On Saturday, the elder Rice was treated like royalty. Sitting on a white throne and, at times, dancing on a red carpet rolled out before him, he was joined by two of his daughters, one of his sons, and four generations of grandchildren for a boisterous mini block party. A DJ spun oldies, R&B and jazz while more than two dozen loved ones gathered around to take pictures and cheer on their grandfather.

And don’t worry, everyone was wearing masks.

“I feel good,” Rice said. “I’m glad to be here.”

Granddaughter Harriet Rice said she was inspired to organize this party for her grandpop after the death of her mother, his daughter, in December.

Narberth Rice, 102, celebrated his birthday with his children and four generations of grandchildren. (Layla A. Jones/WHYY)

“It just really opened up my eyes to let me know how quick life could be,” she said, adding that because Rice’s daughter died only a few months ago, “this really made his day.”

Sometimes, Rice feels down, granddaughter Erica said: His wife, two of his four daughters, and one of his two sons are now deceased.

But as a line of honking sedans, SUVs and vans paraded by, Rice got to wave at his loved ones from a distance.

“I told you you had some friends,” Harriet announced on the loudspeaker as the caravan drifted past. “Look at everybody, wave! He don’t think he have friends. But look at all the friends that came out!”

Family members wave and honk their horns during a car promenade organized to help Narberth Rice celebrate his 102nd birthday while social distancing. (Layla A. Jones/WHYY)

Lindsey Rehl, a nurse practitioner for Oak Street Health, has been taking care of Rice for nearly six months. She said he’s in tip-top shape for his age.

“He is a wonderful man,” Rehl said. “He is very friendly. He’s been a part of our facility for almost two years now, and it’s been a pleasure to serve him.”

Narberth Rice was born on May 24, 1918, and grew up in West Philadelphia at 50th and Brown streets, not far from where he lives now. Harriet Rice said her grandfather has lived in West Philly his entire life.

When Rice was in his 30s, he served in the Army during the Korean War.

102-year-old Narberth Rice is a military veteran who served in the Korean War. (Layla A. Jones/WHYY)

Afterward, he spent decades working in different roles for the city, including time at the Philadelphia Police Department impound lot and with custodial services for the Philadelphia School District. Rice was also a Freemason with the Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania on Broad Street.

“Grandpop did a lot of things,” Harriet Rice said in an interview. “I can tell you some stories, because he tells me some stories.”

One of her fondest memories of her grandfather was when he’d come home bearing boxes of Hershey’s chocolate and potato chips in a brown paper bag for his grandkids.

Decades later, it was Harriet and the family’s turn to brighten his day. When asked for his secret to living to see 102 years old, Rice’s reply was simple:

“I don’t know the secret. I’m just lucky, that’s all.”

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