HENRIETTE “MAN YÈTTE” BOLANÉ still gets around. On her 100th birthday she danced until 4 a.m. Two years later she decided to switch religions, from Roman Catholic to Baptist. Finally, two weeks ago—only a month shy of turning 106—the native of Haiti, now living in Hyattsville, Md., changed citizenship, becoming the oldest new American on record. And a spunky addition at that. “Life definitely has changed,” says Bolané, sitting in her brightly furnished living room. “When nobody is with me, it’s so easy now to pick up the telephone and talk to my family.”
“It’s just amazing how she is still so alert,” marvels her 38-year-old granddaughter Nadia Adams. “She doesn’t live in the past. She lives in the present and future.”
Of course, Bolané has seen a lot of future march into the past. In 1890, the year of Bolané’s birth, U.S. President Benjamin Harrison added Idaho and Wyoming to the union. Legendary baseball pitcher Cy Young was a rookie. And legislation was passed to build a new immigration center on Ellis Island in New York Harbor. Married to Philogène Bolané in the early 1920s (at about the time crystal headphone sets—the first radios—came on the market), Henriette spent most of her life in rural Petite Rivière de Nips, where her husband harvested corn, coffee and rice while she raised eight children. Philogène died of pneumonia in 1963, and eight years later, Henriette joined four of her children in the U.S. “She’s the jewel of the family,” says grandson Roger Guelce Jr.
A resident alien since 1979, Bolané mistakenly thought legislation signed by President Clinton this summer would compel her to become a citizen or forgo her Medicaid benefits. Bolané gladly opted for citizenship. “She still feels very Haitian,” says Guelce, 31, “but she’s very happy to be an American.”
And happier still to preside over her vast brood of 30 grandchildren, 29 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. Although she has high blood pressure and isn’t as spry as she was on the dance floor, Bolané looks to her 107th year with her back straight, her eyes clear and her face remarkably unlined. Her secret? Twice-weekly doses of pro wrestling. On TV. “All that action,” says Guelce, “really keeps her adrenaline pumping.”