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.’”
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.”