Not many can say a state legislator attended their birthday party, but that’s exactly what happened when Jack Raybin, a 52-year Setauket resident, celebrated his 100th birthday.
New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) stopped by Raybin’s party July 4 to present the centenarian with a proclamation. Englebright said it’s a practice of the assembly members to recognize those who distinguish themselves through unique gifts and generosity.
The assemblyman said when Raybin was a young man, he put aside his dreams to become a civil engineer to serve his country in the U.S. Army during World War II. After telling the party guests that the proclamation bears the seal of the State of New York in solid gold, he turned to Raybin to present the certificate and said, “You, sir, are solid gold.”
A few days after the party, sporting a Brooklyn Dodgers hat, the centenarian said he had a nice time at the party that featured baseball-themed decorations lining the driveway and a cake shaped like the former Ebbets Field stadium. Like many of his generation, Raybin was a fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers until the team moved from the borough to Los Angeles in 1957. He then went on to root for the New York Mets.
Born in the East New York section of Brooklyn July 4, 1919, he graduated from Erasmus Hall High School. While he originally studied civil engineering at City College uptown, Raybin said he wound up joining the Army during World War II. He was stationed on the Atlantic Ocean side of Panama. He said he volunteered to join the Army, and at the time there were openings in Fort Tilden and Fort Hamilton in New York, and he expected to serve for a year at either one of them. However, due to there being no volunteers for Panama, names were chosen randomly, and Raybin was selected to serve in that country.
“It was the best thing that happened to me,” he said.
Members of the armed services at Tilden and Hamilton eventually were sent to Europe to fight in World War II; however, he remained in Panama for four years. It was during this time that he met former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who was visiting the troops. He was a captain at the time, and Roosevelt had a question for him.
“Captain, which is your best mess hall?” Roosevelt said.
“That one,” he said, indicating a nearby hall.
“I took one look at her, and I guess I must have fallen in love.”
— Jack Raybin, about when he first met his wife
“Captain, they all should be the best,” she said.
When he returned from Panama, he went back to City College but then transferred to Baruch College, where he majored in business administration. After graduation, he got a job in the field working for a wholesale liquor company. After retiring at 65, he began working at his son-in-law’s company which deals with the laser industry until he was 96, helping with the books and the business side of the operation.
“I was in good health, so I kept working,” he said.
Raybin’s wife, Anne, said the couple moved to Setauket 52 years ago due to its proximity to the beach and the Long Island Rail Road. They raised their children Linda and Paul in the Three Village area.
The two met at Banner Lodge in Connecticut in 1947, and eight months later were married. The centenarian said he remembered she came to the lodge visiting a friend.
“I took one look at her, and I guess I must have fallen in love,” he said.
He said he also remembers taking her on the Ferris wheel where he put his arm around her in the hopes of making out with her.
His wife also remembers the encounter.
“He may be quiet, but he makes his moves,” Anne Raybin said.
When it comes to marital advice, Jack Raybin said it’s about give and take.
“You got to treat your partner as a partner,” he said.
Raybin has seen a lot of change in the world since he was growing up in Brooklyn. He said he remembers going to the store for his mother to pick up ice to keep food cold in an icebox and keeping items such as milk outside the window on a platform in the winter. The centenarian said he still calls a refrigerator an icebox. His family would also have to go to a store if they had a phone call, he said, as the neighborhood phone was in a nearby candy store. An employee would run to a person’s apartment to tell them they had a call, and then they would have to walk down to the store.
Raybin is a grandfather to five and great-grandfather to one, and he said he’s always willing to share his stories about the old days with his family.
“If they’re interested, they’ll ask me about it, and I’ll tell them,” he said.