One remembered the jubilation that came with the end of World War I, others the hardships of the Depression. Another recalled fleeing the horrors of the Holocaust, and another riding a horse to school.
They keep themselves busy doing crossword puzzles, knitting, gardening, cooking big Italian dinners, playing the piano, and driving elderly neighbors to the supermarket.
They were farmers, gas station owners, doctors, secretaries, and a retired Catholic nun.
But all share one thing in common: They lived to see their 100th birthday.
The 40 centenarians who gathered May 19 at the Regency Jewish Heritage Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in the Somerset section of Franklin Township will now be in the Guinness World Records. The event was the largest single gathering of people 100 years and older, eclipsing the old record of 28 that had been set in 2009 at a tea party in England.
Five of the centenarians who were at the event are residents of the Regency — 100-year-olds Mollie Eisenstein, Anna Howard, and Hilda Lubetkin, and Anna Williams and Sylvia Jeser, both 101.
Attendees came from private homes and assisted living centers, and from as far north as Bergen County, to eat lunch and hear musical selections, including, inevitably, “You Make Me Feel So Young.”
Regency administrator Marty Bengio said the centenarian gathering had been held for some years by the Somerset County Office on Aging and Disability Services. The Regency picked it up last year, and decided to go for the record this year with the county’s assistance.
Because some of the centenarians were born overseas and didn’t have birth certificates, staffers had to go through census records and other archival documents to authenticate their ages for Guinness.
At 107, Catherine Carlin was the oldest of the group. Born in Scotland where she became a carpet-weaver, she came to the United States in 1929, settling in Kearny.
A bookbinder at Prudential in Newark for many years, she now lives at Saint Francis residential community in Denville.
When asked by NJJN to reveal the secret to her longevity, Carlin smiled and said, “Oh that’s up to the good Lord. You can’t tell him what to do you know.”
However, when asked if she had children, she began to laugh and added, “Oh I was never married. That’s really the reason I’ve lived to be 107.”
Jeanne Fetzko, executive director of the county office on aging, told the gathering that according to the U.S. Census, 80 percent of all centenarians are women. Of the 40 centenarians at the gathering, only two were men.
One of those was Kurt Steiner of Cranford, 101, who lives alone in the home he purchased in 1953.
A native of Vienna, he and his wife fled Austria in 1939 to escape the Holocaust. Much of his family was not so lucky; his father died in a concentration camp.
Steiner recalled that after arriving in the United States, the couple lived on $10 a week. In 1942 he became an apprentice tool and die maker, producing surgical instruments for the military. He rose through company ranks for the next 34 years, becoming a supervisor. He has a son, two grandchildren, and one great-grandson.
Steiner attributed his long life to “good genes, hard work, and staying active. My life hasn’t always been easy but I was always active.”
He still walks — albeit with a walker — a half-mile twice a day, gardens, and drives “the old ladies around the neighborhood.”
Harriet Danza, 101, recalled the excitement of getting her first electric refrigerator and modern washing machine. The Brooklyn native, who spent most of her adult life on Staten Island, laughed as she remembered the blisters she would get on wash day from all the scrubbing she had to do.
Danza moved to Spring Hills assisted living in Somerset to be near her son and three grandchildren; she now has six great-grandchildren.
“When I grew up it was really hard times,” she said. “I’ve seen lots of changes. And I’m having a glorious time here.”
Filomena Bianco, who came with her husband to the United States from Italy at age 19 when she was six months pregnant, proudly said she was “101 and a half.” The couple lived in Montclair and Caldwell.
She now lives with one of her three daughters in Woodland Park, where she does everything for herself and loves to cook and bake, regularly making pizza from scratch as well as other Italian specialties. Bianco has nine grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren.
Franklin Mayor Brian Levine, who came dressed in a tuxedo, explained he had to leave early to perform a wedding. That led him to tell the crowd his own you’re-never-too-old story — about officiating two weeks earlier at the first-time marriage of a 90-year-old groom.