It Was A Party For The Ages In New Milford

Source: Bergen Record
, Staff Writer, @LocalNewsPhil 
Published 4:04 p.m. ET Jan. 28, 2017 | Updated 1:21 a.m. ET Jan. 29, 2017

Nursing home honors six centenarians


NEW MILFORD – If you were to ask Martha Harrison, she most likely would say age is only a number.

But her age and that of five other centenarians were worthy of celebration at the Woodcrest Health Care Center on Friday. Harrison, who turned 104 years old on Dec. 28, was cuddling a Chihuahua close to her chest. Henry is a therapy dog and a frequent visitor to the River Road nursing home, where the centenarians live.

Harrison was the eldest of the bunch to be honored at a joint birthday party that Woodcrest hosted over a supper of spaghetti Bolognese and fillets of chicken with brown gravy and mushrooms, in its downstairs dining hall. An impressive platter of fresh fruit, cookies, pastries and birthday cake followed. Two honorees, 102-year-old Lillie Ullman and 101-year-old Octavia Bivol, did not attend because they were ill.

Harrison and the other centenarians, 101-year-old Blanca Higuera, 100-year-old Cecelia Barry and 100-year-old Stella Lubie, sat with their families around a long table draped with a red cloth. Each woman had pinned to her blouse a yellow rose boutonniere.

Mayor Ann Subrizi was on hand to read aloud proclamations for each centenarian, declaring Jan. 27 a day to celebrate their birthdays.

“We wanted this for them,” said Jessica Arroyo, the nursing home’s administrator. “This is a beautiful thing. We’re so happy and proud of them, and we wanted to make them feel special.”

Barry, who has three children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren, said family support and the fact she never picked up a bad habit attributed to her healthy lifestyle.

Then, she joked, “If all centenarians are women, we’ll have to go out with younger men.”

“Women are genetically more sturdy than men,” Dr. Laura Chavez, the nursing home’s medical director, said in a more serious tone. “Women learn through exposure to become stronger. We are born as caregivers with maternal instincts. But it’s not only about longevity — it’s about quality of life. It’s about attitude.”

That’s the truth, considering the life of Harrison. She was born of simple means in Pennsylvania, one of nine children. She said her family’s home had a bathtub in the kitchen and that, during the winter, she and her siblings would walk along the railroad to gather lumps of coal that trains had spilled. They needed the coal to feed their stove.

“I was raising a baby, and my husband left me when the war was on,” she continued, to further explain the obstacles she endured. “Now, you got me going back.”

Higuera, who speaks Spanish, described a story related to her life through her daughter. She was one of 10 children, who escaped communist Cuba in 1961. The New Milford Public Library displayed an exhibit of her paintings in July.

“She’s very grateful to be alive,” said her daughter, Rosie Toner of New Milford. “She is optimistic and giving to people. She advises not to live in a communist country because all of her siblings stayed in Cuba and died young.”

Lubie, who will turn 101 years old on Feb. 19, said the party on Friday came as a shock to her. “I didn’t expect something like this,” she said, adding, “It’s too much for me.”

Lubie lived in Ridgefield Park before moving into Woodcrest. She used to enjoy cooking Polish cuisine, and she still loves listening to big-band music and playing bingo with her daughter, Adele Syby.

“Mom, you told me something the other day,” Syby said. “What was it? What did you say about living a healthy life? You said, ‘You just have to …’ ”

A reporter, observing the conversation, heard Lubie respond: “I said, ‘You just have to keep going.’ ”

“All of these women are amazing,” said Arroyo, the nursing home’s administrator. “They’re resilient, and they’re strong. And that’s what makes them survivors.”

February 2, 2017 | Posted by CareOne | Filed in Blog, News