Two pandemics have hit the United States and Lucia DeClerck survived them both. In 1918, at the age of two, DeClerck caught the Spanish Flu, yet she overcame and lived. More than 100 years later, at age 105, she tested positive for COVID-19, and she’s defeated that virus, too.
A brilliant and beautiful centenarian, DeClerck currently resides in New Jersey, but for years, she and her first husband, Henry “Nat” Laws, Jr., owned the Highway Market, a corner store located at Imperial Highway and Slater Avenue in Watts. According to her granddaughter, Shawn Laws O’Neil, the market was a community fixture before being sold to the California Department of Transportation to allow construction of the 105 Freeway.
As for her longevity, DeClerck credits her good eating habits and avoidance of junk food. “One of her favorite food items to eat is Asian sea weed salad,” said O’Neil. “She prevents some illness, such as arthritis, by eating gin-soaked raisins, drinking an aloe-based home brew and she walked daily until she was 101.”
Another recommendation for long life that DeClerck advised is to “pray, pray, pray. Prayer time is a priority,” she insisted, and her faith is extremely important to her. Throughout her life, she volunteered with the Catholic Church and she coordinated Mass at her independent living facility in New Jersey before moving to an assisted living home five years ago.
Clearly, DeClerck has lived an incredible life for more than 10 decades. In addition to beating two pandemics, she persisted in the midst of two World Wars, the Civil Rights Movement, three husbands, heart failure and a lung infection.
She likely inherited such endurance from her family lineage, which includes her mother’s family, who emigrated from Belize to Hawaii in 1911, and her father, who left Vigo, Spain to settle in America. The marriage of her mother, Flora Vargas Pereira, and dad, Antonio Vidol Lopez, resulted in DeClerck’s birth in 1916. She was the family’s first grandchild and the first member to be born a U.S. citizen.
DeClerck wed “Nat” Laws in 1943 and from that union, they had three boys – Henry III, Joseph (deceased) and Phillip. Also, the family operated Highway Market and faithfully attended St. Leo Roman Catholic Church. Later, DeClerck moved to Hawaii – the state where she spent part of her childhood – and worked as a home care aide before relocating to New Jersey in 1994 to live closer to her eldest son and his family.
Reviewing her many years of living, DeClerck expressed appreciation for witnessing many historical events, however, there are two memorable moments that she will always cherish. The first, she said, was, “Barack Obama’s election as president of the United States. I was also thrilled to receive a note from President and First Lady Obama for my 100th birthday.” DeClerck was equally excited to receive a commendation from Pope Francis for her 100th and 105th birthdays.
Apparently excitement is a family trait because many members reflected that quality when explaining what they appreciate the most about DeClerck. “Her attention to family,” declared Henry and Jean Laws, her oldest son and daughter-in-law. “Even at the ripe age of 105 years, she knows the names and location of each family member. She can also recall those that have passed and their relation.”
Commenting on DeClerck’s persistence, her youngest son, Phillip Laws, said, “My mother has incredible tenacity that is unbelievable, and faithful devotion to her prayer.” Sharing similar remarks, her granddaughter, Linda Henderson-Smith shared, “I appreciate my grandmother’s faith, her wisdom, her love for family, and her resilient rebelliousness.”
Recalling talking on the telephone with DeClerck, Roz Curry, another granddaughter, remembered, “No matter how brief, [the conversations] gave me hope and made me feel loved by her. One of my treasured memories was a conversation with her about how she won $25 from Betty Crocker for her gingerbread recipe.”
Summing up the outsized personality of DeClerck, her granddaughter, Denise Laws-Jackson, said, “My sister, Deanna, cousin Shawn and I spent most of our summers as children with our grandmother and her mother, Lopez. Grandmother Lucia has always been amazing, vibrant and full of energy. She was always teaching us something. She seems to have a bit of knowledge about everything and anything.
“She made our time with her during the summers as children adventurous and homey. She made every minute of our time in the summer about being together, seeing beautiful things, and knowing that life is a blessing,” said Laws-Jackson.
“What is amazing and a blessing to us even today is that our grandmother remembers each event, trip, detail of our lives then and now better than any of us. She is our teacher, our history, our heart!”