OAKLAND -- Over the years, Andrew Hatch seldom made a fuss about celebrating his birthday, of which he has had many. Hatch said he was never much of a dancer and didn't like the formality of big parties. But on Monday, he celebrated his 115th birthday, putting him in a rare group of human beings who can say their lives spanned three centuries and more than 110 years.
"I'm glad I'm still here," said Hatch, known to friends and family as "Red."
Most days he spends napping, "watching the world go by" in the garden of the senior center where he lives or buzzing along the streets of downtown Oakland on a motorized cart. His sunglasses are fitted with rearview mirrors. "I go wherever I want on my gizmo," he said, pointing to the candy-apple red Pride Mobility Victory scooter in his sparsely furnished studio apartment. "I'm still a youngster."
Hatch marks his birthdate as Oct. 7, 1898, the year the Philippines declared independence from Spain and the United States annexed Hawaii. William McKinley was this country's 25th president.
Hatch could be the oldest man in the state and maybe the nation, but the distinction cannot be verified officially despite documents such as an old driver's license.
Hatch does not have certified birth records because documentation for African-Americans in the South, where he was born, was scant in the late 19th century. So his family has been unable to include him in the Gerontology Research Group, which as of Friday had certified 62 supercentenarians, 61 women and one man who have reached or exceeded the age of 110.
The oldest certified is Misao Okawa, of Japan, born March 5, 1898.
There may be several hundred more uncertified supercentenarians, according to the Gerontology Research Group website.
"I'm lucky," Hatch said Saturday, two days before a tribute for him at the Lake Merritt Hotel. It was part of a fundraiser luncheon held for the nonprofit Senior Moments founded by his daughter Delane Sims, of Oakland.
"My father was an inspiration," Sims said.
Her father witnessed some of the greatest upheavals of this country's history, and he bears the memory of the Civil Rights Movement as well as the election of the 44th U.S. and the first African-American president, Barack Obama.
A 2008 letter from Obama congratulating Hatch on his 110th birthday hangs next to proclamations from local officials on the wall of Hatch's senior center studio apartment, where he has lived for several years.
He lived for decades in West Oakland surrounded by friends including Esther Mabry, who ran Esther's Orbit Room on Seventh Street. Hatch helped Mabry get started when she arrived in Oakland from Texas and drove a taxi for the collective she and her husband helped organize.
Hatch's wife Alice Carver died in 1997 at the age of 60.
Hatch was born in Louisiana before the family moved to Texas and first came to Oakland as a young man to visit his grandmother.
He learned the locksmith trade, but his life as a merchant marine took him to Africa, Europe, Canada -- around the world. He also fled to Mexico for several years after Jim Crow laws in Texas put him on the wrong side of the authorities for "reckless eyeballing."
In 1933, he moved to Oakland for good.
"His stories are unbelievable," Hatch's granddaughter, Viola Wolford, said. "His life is unbelievable, how far he has come."