WHEELING - John Randolph Williams decided he wanted to enter his 100th year with style.
"He came to me about a month ago and said, 'You know, I'm going to be 99 on Oct. 3,'" said Jamie Crow, executive director of Elmhurst, The House of Friendship, where Williams has lived for about a year following the death of his wife, Frances "Pinkie" Williams.
"He said he wanted us to know how much Elmhurst meant to him and, ... since Pinkie passed, how much he came to rely on us this past year," Crow said.
Joining John Randolph Williams to celebrate his 99th birthday at Elmhurst, The House of Friendship, in Wheeling are his three sons and their wives, from left, Sarah and David Williams; John Williams; Wick and Jennifer Williams; and Randy and Nancy Williams.
"He wanted to give back."
So Williams hosted a prime rib lunch for the residents and staff of the assisted living facility.
"I gave them a party. I think they liked it," Williams said.
In addition to prime rib, the 39 residents, 10 guests and 15 staff dined on twice baked potatoes, fresh asparagus, the Fort Henry Club's pureed vegetable soup (which was re-created with permission by Elmhurst's culinary director), and for dessert, baked Alaska, complete with the "en flambe" treatment.
"He tried to blow it out. Unfortunately, he wasn't able to," Crow said.
On hand for his party were Williams' three sons and their wives: David and Sarah of Elon, N.C.; Wick and Jennifer of West Grove, Pa.; and Randy and Nancy of Philadelphia.
"It was absolutely phenomenal. It went off without a hitch," Crow said.
Williams and his late wife were heavily involved in Wheeling's cultural, civic and educational pursuits.
Prior to the luncheon, Williams and his children paid a visit to The Linsly School, where Pinkie Williams had served on the board and for whom the Williams Visual Arts Center is named.
John Williams served as an executive with Ogden Newspapers for 32 years, from 1950 until his retirement in 1982.
"I've seen Wheeling go from a city of 66,000 to 28,000," he said.
"I don't take personal responsibility for that," he quipped.
He was involved in Wheeling Rotary Club from 1950 until recent years when he stopped driving.
Williams said he keeps active at Elmhurst, exercising every day.
"I do everything but play bridge," he said.
The afternoon of his birthday, his sons took him shopping for a new computer so he can Skype with his children and nine grandchildren.
He also is a great-grandfather of five, with a sixth due next week.
"My computer is only 10 years old, but they say I need a new one so I can Skype," Williams said.
He said his late wife used to make and send cards on the computer.
Crow said anyone who meets Williams is amazed at his age.
His son, David, asked a reporter after speaking with his father, "Doesn't seem 99, does he?"
He said his father's memory is sharp.
"He's like Google. He's full of information," David Williams said.
The family capped the day with dinner at Later Alligator in Center Wheeling.
"I won't be 99 again. This is my last year of double digits," Williams said.
"It was absolutely phenomenal. It went off without a hitch," Crow said of Williams' party.
"I told John, I said, 'We better start preparing now for your 100th because we have really set the bar high!'"