Henrietta Daytz tiptoes through the door of Girls Incorporated with her lips painted a dazzling shade of ruby red and her blond hair swept up beneath her favorite black hat. Her ears are decorated with gold-and-white earrings and her neck with a strand of white beads.
As she settles onto a red couch, a swarm of girls makes a beeline into the room. They immediately join Daytz on the couch — fighting over who gets to sit closest — and present her with a blue, pink and gold birthday crown made of paper flowers crested with peace signs in honor of her 100th birthday. While everyone is still beaming, Henrietta prepares to read a book to the girls, which she does nearly every week during the summer.
“It’s not easy turning 100,” Daytz says. “There are many limitations. You don’t have the change of life at 45 — it’s when you lose your wheels and independence.”
Daytz never thought of getting old. She lived in Palm Beach before moving 30 years ago to Sarasota. She played golf and tennis at the local country club, lunched with her girlfriends and attended fashion shows. But Daytz and her friend, Gert Weisman, decided they weren’t interested in sitting around the pool during the day and needed something else to fill their time. They decided to open a dress shop.
“We called it ‘New and Nearly New,’” Daytz says. “Women in Palm Beach are very high style and fashionable, and you don’t wear the same dress twice. When we opened that shop, the girls came in like caterpillars and went out like butterflies.”
When Daytz moved to Sarasota, she didn’t know a soul.
“It was through the Longboat Key Club that I met my friends, and they are all gone,” Daytz says.
She began volunteering at age 87 and is going on 14 years reading to students at Southside Elementary. In addition to Girls Inc., where she has volunteered for eight years, and Southside, she also volunteers at the Senior Friendship Centers. Through her volunteer work, Daytz has become known for her coined phrases, which Kay Mathers, interim executive director of Girls Inc., calls “nuggets of wisdom.” Daytz uses phrases such as, “There is no such thing as a second first impression,” and “If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”
The two met about six years ago when Daytz made one of her weekly visits.
“Ms. Henrietta had been coming in long before I was there,” says Mathers. “Angie Stringer called and told me to take good care of her. I had just lost all of my grandparents.”
“And you were pregnant,” Daytz adds.
“I remember saying my grandparents were never as sharp as Ms. Henrietta,” Mathers says. “She said, ‘Let’s go to lunch.’”
“I liked you when you were pregnant, and I said, ‘You’re so beautiful,’” Daytz says.
“So we started lunching,” Mathers says. “I never had anyone I lunched with like Ms. Henrietta. I’m very proud. The COO (Gary Philbin) of Dollar Tree sent Ms. Henrietta a letter congratulating her on her birthday and wants to have lunch with her to celebrate. The president (Obama) sent her a letter as well.”
Then, as per usual, Daytz returns to talking about her volunteer work.
“When I read, I always hold the book and they snuggle up,” Daytz says. “The idea that somebody cares enough to sit beside the girls and cares to listen, they don’t get that. I’d like to keep going as long as I can. I can’t do all of the things I used to do, but what I do, I love. That’s important, and it’s returned.”
By The Numbers
99 — Henrietta Daytz’s age (but not for long)
87 — age she began volunteering
66 — years she was married
13 — great-grandchildren
5 — grandchildren
3 — volunteer jobs
2 — children
1 — birthday card from President Obama
1 — birthday card from the COO of Dollar Tree