By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – It’s a rare occasion when a person reaches their 100th birthday. Imagine the odds of nine people living in the same home marking that milestone.
But that was the very case Sunday, May 1 when nine residents of the Jewish Home for the Elderly, at 175 Jefferson Street, were celebrated as centenarians. The birthday girls and boys included Freda Hertz, 100; Nellie Kaminski, 99 (100 in Nov.); Betty Keller, 100; Sadie Peloso, 100; Molla Rosen, 102; Edith Wyman, 102; Dorothy Wilson, 100; Jean Serlin, 102; and Louis Weintraub, 99 (100 in Nov.). The celebration took place in the Home’s Tandet Recreation Center and was attended by several dozen family members and friends, who enjoyed lunch and cupcakes.
Andrew Banoff, the Home’s President and CEO, opened the event with a few remarks. “The Jewish Home has been celebrating its centenarians for the past seven years,” he said. “We thought it would be a neat way to recognize that so many people that live here have reached this incredible milestone. Today is a very special day for all of us, and started with my friend Dave Erenberg. I asked him the secret to long life and he said, ‘Put your hands on your face and rub your cheeks.’ I wondered what we were doing. He said, ‘You’re exercising your smile.’”
Erenberg’s grandson, Brian Winter, followed Banoff, saying, “It’s amazing that he lived to 104. Thanks to the Jewish Home for honoring him with this annual luncheon.”
Seated around tables with colorful balloons and messaging as centerpieces, family groups visited with honorees and spoke of special memories from their long lives.
“My mother-in-law lived in Manchester, England,” said Terry Entwistle, Edith Wyman’s daughter-in-law. “Her family owned cotton mills and were more well off than most. They had the first car in town. Edith claims she had no problem getting dates.”
Cynthia Kadish, a friend of Molla Rosen’s, said, “Molla was in the Miss Connecticut contest in 1926 at age 19, trying for a spot in the Miss America pageant. For her 100th birthday two years ago, several former Miss Connecticuts came to celebrate with her.”
Ruth Peloso, Sadie Peloso’s sister-in-law, said, “Sadie remembers when there were gas streetlights and the lamplighters lighting them. Summertimes she used to go with girlfriends to Peach Lake in upstate New York to ride in canoes. It was simple old-fashioned fun.”
Bill Serlin, Jean Serlin’s son, said, “Mom remembers moving from New York to Bridgeport and seeing the trolley tracks being removed on Main Street. That was about 75 years ago. She remembers the Great Depression, too, and the banks closing their doors and people waiting in lines outside trying to get their money.”
Carolyn Greene, one of Louis Weintraub’s daughters, said her dad grew up in New York but lived in Bridgeport as a teen. “He remembers horses were still much in use and they refreshed themselves at a main public water trough on the Fairfield Avenue extension.”
Greene added, “Reaching 100 has been his goal. He’s been talking about this since he was 80.”
Freda Hertz’s daughter, Phyllis Weisberg, said her mom grew up in Montreal and learned French as a child. “She came to New York in the late 30s and didn’t use her French for much of her life until, that is, she came to the Home,” she said. “She found a couple of French-speaking Haitian nurses and a fellow resident that spoke French, and she started using her French again. It’s about all she remembers these days.”
Betty Keller’s daughter, Janet Jurow, said her mom came to the U.S. from Poland in 1915 with her mother and two other kids, including Jurow’s Uncle Joey. “She remembers being very sick on the boat and seeing the Statue of Liberty,” she said. “Her father was already in the U.S. and had a party for her. There was bread on the table, which my Uncle Joey stuffed into her clothes. He got his first spanking for that by my grandfather, who said, ‘In America, you don’t have to steal bread. There’s always bread here.’”
Remarkably, Keller still works, at the Sheltered Workshop at the Home. “She stuffs envelopes and folds letters,” Jurow said. “She’ll work a few hours a day and gets a paycheck. She has an amazing work ethic, which is uncommon these days.”