When Ayzman Lazer was born in Russia in December 1905, his country was ruled by a czar, the British Empire occupied about a quarter of the globe and Teddy Roosevelt was in the Oval Office. Since then, there have been two world wars, epidemics, another Roosevelt in the White House, depressions, recessions, economic downturns, space travel, cell phones, atomic blasts and a population explosion.
Last Thursday, Lazer joined others who’ve seen about as much as he has. The Bustleton resident was among about 100 people who are 100 years old or older whose contributions the city honored at a luncheon at the Sheet Metal Workers hall on Columbus Avenue.
Lazer, at 106, was the oldest man in attendance, said Randy Giancaterino of the City Representative’s Office. Anna Henderson was the oldest woman. In fact, at 112, Henderson is one of the oldest people in the world. The most senior of the world’s citizens is Besse Berry Cooper, 115, of Georgia, USA.
Mary Edwards, 107, and also from the Northeast, was the oldest Philadelphia-born centenarian at the South Philly union hall for the 12th annual ceremony.
There are 452 centenarians living in Philadelphia, according to statistics supplied by the city. The city’s 100-year-old club is growing. That’s 28 more members than there were in Philly last year. Nationwide, by 2010, there were more than 51,000 in the United States.
Many of those who are age 100 or older or about to turn 100 this year at last week’s party were from Northeast Philly, including: Helen Birkenstock, 99; Mary Calzada, 99; Elias Cherian, 99; Annie Faix, 100; Zelma Finnegan, 100; Mary Kelly, 101; Irma Macho, 106; Euenia Nealis, 103; Mary Oliver, 102; Margaret Palermo, 101; Ruth Tengood, 99; Anna Tracey, 99; Sarah Weyland, 102; and Yutchen Yang, 99.
That’s a lot of people who have seen the world change in big and little ways.
Ellen Moore, lately of Mayfair, lived for 90 of her 102 years in Fox Chase. She had lived in a row house before that and was so glad to move into a home that had ground around it.
People stayed in their neighborhoods, she said. There were local movie houses, she said, so people didn’t have to stray far from home for entertainment. Besides, she said, very few people had cars.
Moore recalled the deadly post-World War I epidemics. She lost a baby brother to one, and recalled that deaths had been so numerous that her family initially couldn’t get a coffin.
“They had run out of coffins,” she said. “People were being buried in sheets.”
Still, her little brother got a coffin because a family friend made it.
Katherine Appicello, 100, of Wissinoming, recalled how local businesses thrived. “Miss Kitty” ran one of them, a Torresdale Avenue fabric store called the Rose Shop. She remembers Memorial Day parades in Tacony and musicians who were members of a local church strolling from block to block as they played.
She knew struggles, too, she said, like being hungry during the Great Depression, and working 10 hours a day for eight bucks a week.
“I once scrubbed a lady’s entire house for two dollars,” she said.
Of course, when people were earning next to nothing, prices were pretty low, too. Way back when, you could fill a bag with bread and goodies from Beck’s bakery on Frankford Avenue for a quarter, she said.
Margaret Haze, 100, of Somerton, moved to Philly from Manhattan 46 years ago. A pianist and former USO director, Haze lives on her own and does her own cooking, she said.
Her secret to a long life?
“It’s genetic,” her son, Paul, said. Family members are very long-lived, he explained.
“No fried food!” his mom chipped in. Put plenty of fruits and vegetables in your diet, she said, but she added she likes steak.
Appicello had a few pieces of advice: eat plenty of fruit, work hard and keep a smile on your face.
For Moore, the formula for a long life remains a mystery.
“I’m still trying to figure it out,” she said. ••EndFragment