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100 Years Old

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Mildred Kramer, above, celebrated her 100th birthday on Monday in Belle Terre. Photo by by Caitlin Ferrell

By Caitlin Ferrell

Mildred Kramer celebrated her centennial Monday, reaching a milestone fewer than .02 percent of Americans do.

The Belle Terre resident was born April 30, 1912, and spent her 100th birthday with several family members and friends.

Though undiagnosed, her family and friends believe she suffers from Alzheimer’s disease. “She doesn’t realize what’s happening,” Kramer’s niece, Maureen Schecher, said.

Because of Kramer’s disintegrating memory, most of her early life is a mystery, though Schecher said Kramer was born in Far Rockaway and grew up in Queens. Her parents died in their 40s and Kramer was raised by her step-sister, Mary “Marnie” Flood. Kramer also had two younger sisters, Fidelis and Nora. Her three sisters passed away decades ago.

After graduating from Our Lady of Wisdom, a Catholic high school, “She started working right away,” Schecher said about her aunt.

On October 11, 1941, she married her husband Robert, who died six years ago at the age of 97. The couple met on a double date, according to family friend John Surace.

“She was with the other guy and he was with the other girl,” Surace said. “And Bob leaned over to the guy and said, ‘I’m goin’ to take her.’”

Mildred Kramer is all smiles with her late husband Robert. Photo from Maureen Schecher
Mildred Kramer is all smiles with her late husband Robert. Photo from Maureen Schecher

The couple moved to a small apartment in Hempstead. Robert Kramer worked as an engineer for Republic Aviation Corp. and Mildred Kramer worked as a secretary to the Supreme Court in Nassau County.

“The biggest part of her life was her marriage to my uncle and her career at the courthouse,” Schecher said. Colleagues called her the “walking encyclopedia” for her vast knowledge.

Friends describe Mildred Kramer as smart and serious, happy and loving.

Schecher said that at the age of 58, her aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer and was told she would only have five years to live. She retired soon after, and the Kramers moved from Freeport to Belle Terre.

“She thought it was time to go and start a new life,” Schecher said.

Nancy Henry, a longtime neighbor, recalled meeting the Kramers more than 30 years ago, when they lived around the corner. “She was a beautiful woman,” Henry said. “She still is, for a 100-year-old woman.”

Mildred Kramer and Henry began playing weekly games of Mahjong. “There were ten of us who played,” Henry said. Kramer played Mahjong while her husband golfed.

The couple also owned a boat and would go on day trips. Robert Kramer would fish.

When he reached his 80s, arthritis hit his joints. At the same time, his wife’s eyesight began to worsen. Henry said that Robert Kramer would drive her to the grocery store and wait while she did the shopping. He also took her to the beauty parlor every week to get her hair done.

“They were just such nice people,” Henry said.

Mildred Kramer still has her hair done every week and gets a manicure every two weeks. She has a bit of ice cream every night as well as a little John Begg scotch – continuing a tradition from her marriage.

“I think if she knew what was going on, she’d be amazed that she did it,” Schecher said. The centenarian has stayed in the same house she shared with her husband, with a live-in nurse, Cherry.

Friends visited Monday to celebrate Kramer’s 100th birthday. They brought cards and balloons, squeezed her hands and told her how extraordinary it all was. A card from President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama sat on the table next to cards and flowers from friends and family. Schecher served ice cream cake on 100th birthday plates. She had to order the plates online because no party store had them in stock. The party didn’t last long, as the guest of honor grew tired and needed to lie down for a nap.

“She’s very comfortable, she’s in her own home,” Henry said. “She was always very good with all the people she knew. She was very friendly, very helpful, she was thought of in a very fond way.”

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Dancer Linda Sorel to celebrate 100th birthday in Port Jeff

Linda Sorel, a resident of the Port Jefferson Health Care Facility, turns 100 Nov. 28. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Linda Sorel was supposed to go to school. Instead, without telling her mother, she took her practice clothes and went to the Capitol Theatre on Broadway. “They played music and I danced and I got hired, and from then on I never went back to school.” She said she has been a dancer her entire life, and that audition landed her with the dance troupe Chester Hale Girls. She was later one of the Rockettes at the opening of Radio City Music Hall in 1932. But the view from the stage only begins to scratch the surface of what she has seen.

Sorel has lived through both World Wars, the advent of refrigerators and electric lightbulbs, raising 10 cats, decades of inflation and, more recently, laryngitis. She will celebrate her centennial Nov. 28, marking 100 years of spirit and adventure.

“I’m a mere hundred,” she said. “I don’t feel any different now than I felt when I was 35.” The five-foot woman gestures with almost every word, her silver nail polish sweeping through the air.

James Ciervo, the director of therapeutic recreation and community relations at Sorel’s nursing home, said the new centenarian is still as “sharp as a tack.”

Linda Sorel at about age 20. Photo from Sorel
Linda Sorel at about age 20. Photo from Sorel

Sorel spends much of her time feeding birds outside Port Jefferson Health Care on Dark Hollow Road and writing poetry. One of her poems, about a cat named “Gigi,” she can recite by heart. Another describes how it felt to be a Rockette: “The overture is over, the curtains tightly drawn, as we await in the wings, the signal to go on.” She said she also writes poems for people she cares about, such as the nurses who take care of her.

Although she often finds herself busy, Sorel set aside time to reminisce and talk about how different things were when she was younger. She was born and raised in Manhattan and Brooklyn, after her grandparents emigrated with their two little girls to the United States from Bialystok at a time when it was part of the Russian Empire. She was raised by those two little girls, her mother and Aunt Ada.

When Sorel was a kid, the family wouldn’t go to supermarkets for food. She said there were merchants with horse-drawn carts who would go along the cobblestone streets and sell them groceries, which they would store at home in an ice box, not a refrigerator. There were also no electric lights. Sorel remembered that people would light outdoor lamps on posts using a long stick, and when one of her older sisters died at 11, during the Spanish Flu epidemic, a gas light in the hallway was turned low for mourning.

One of the things she misses most about those days was the cheap candy. Sorel recalled spending only a penny to get a piece of chocolate-covered jelly, and said she enjoyed going to a local ice cream parlor, sitting on a tall chair and buying an ice cream soda, which was served in generous portions.

But she has memories from that time that are not as happy. Sorel said during World War I, she was “a tiny little girl and the sirens would go off” in Manhattan to warn of a possible air raid. The family would close the blinds, turn out the lights and get away from the windows. “Oh, the Germans are coming over here,” she remembered fearing. But they never did and the sirens would stop.

When she was older, in her early 20s, Sorel got her big break dancing with the Rockettes, although she said she enjoyed ballet more. With the Rockettes, she had a strict routine. “I loved to put my own feeling into it, and you had to do what everyone else did.”

After her professional dancing days were over, in the late 1960s, she moved to Patchogue, where she had spent weekends as a kid, and remained there until relocating to the nursing home. With her 100th birthday approaching, Sorel revealed her secret to longevity. She said she has been on a diet her entire life, never touching any food between meals and staying away from fats and starches. However, she has a weak spot: chocolate, and the darker the better.

In advance of her centennial celebration, Linda Sorel remained focused on her great-nephew Danny and politics — the only thing she said she would miss “Dancing with the Stars” to watch.

As for Danny, Sorel said she received a letter from her great-nephew recently and wanted to show everybody. She talked about how grown-up he is now. But when he was little, the centenarian remembered, the boy would call out, “‘Look, Aunt Linda!” “And he would do these crazy things,” Sorel said, flailing her arms. “And I would look.”