May was Older Americans Month — an annual opportunity to recognize senior citizens across the country while continuing to create a better quality of life for the elderly population — and it was capped off with a celebration for the oldest residents of the community.
The Klein JCC, along with community volunteers and over 20 nonprofit and community organizations, last Thursday afternoon held its first Northeast Philadelphia Centenarian Celebration.
The celebration honored 30 local residents who will be 100 by year’s end or have already reached the milestone. Committee members — neighborhood residents and Klein JCC employees — sought out centenarians from the 19111, 19114, 19115, 19116, 19135, 19136, 19149, 19152 and 19154 ZIP codes for the event over the last six months.
Centenarians and their guests were welcomed with a musical presentation by the locally based Rustics string band. After everyone arrived, the day’s festivities officially kicked off with a performance by preschool-aged children from Lassin Early Learning Center, located at 10800 Jamison Ave. Centenarians listened and watched in delight as the mini-musicians sang along to Louis Armstrong’s What a Wonderful World.
Following the performance, several dignitaries shared remarks.
“I love these particular events,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “I’m a huge fan of our more senior Philadelphians and all that they share and all that they bring to the quality of life here in Philadelphia … The city is a better place because of the things you’ve done, because you are here and because you are active and engaged in the community.”
Philadelphia has hosted an annual, citywide centenarian luncheon celebration for the last 14 years. Raechel Hammer, vice president of development and compliance at Klein JCC and one of the event’s main organizers, addressed the reasoning behind holding a smaller celebration in the Northeast.
“The city has a citywide celebration, but we found because each neighborhood and each community has such a distinctive flavor to it, we wanted to honor those people who were living in Northeast with a Northeast Philadelphia celebration in addition to what the city did,” Hammer said.
Celebrating the centenarians in the local communities also was significant because of the high population. Not only does Philadelphia have the second-highest senior population among the top 10 cities in the United States, with 474 known centenarians, the Northeast has one of the top concentrations of centenarians within the entire state, according to Nutter.
After his remarks, Nutter posed for pictures with each centenarian.
Other speakers included Brian Duke, secretary of the state Department of Aging; Holly Lange, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Corporation of Aging; and state Rep. Kevin Boyle.
Following the speakers and a brief invocation, lunch was served as the centenarians were entertained by the crooning of Stu Weitz.
Amid dining and singing, the honorees received certificates of recognition from local and state agencies and government officials, including the offices of U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz, state Sen. Mike Stack, state Reps. Kevin Boyle and Brendan Boyle, Gov. Tom Corbett, the Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, and the City of Philadelphia.
In addition to certificates, the centenarians received small bags of gifts and information booklets from the event’s sponsors, including First Niagara, Sarah Care, Always Best Care, Subaru and VRI.
The day wrapped up with dessert and a “Happy Birthday” performance by Marilyn Monroe (played by Holly Farris), sequins dress, diamonds and sultry “Mr. President” vocals included.
Samuel Kaplan, a long-term resident of Borbeck Avenue who will turn 100 on July 21, thoroughly enjoyed the day’s events.
“I didn’t know I was coming until a few days ago,” Kaplan said, “but being together with all the wonderful people and listening to the great music, I love it. It’s beautiful.”
Kaplan, who has six grandchildren and 16 great-grandchildren, plans to continue on with his usual routine when he hits the triple digits in July.
“I’m going to do the same thing I’ve been doing since I’ve retired,” Kaplan said. “[Have] good health, go to the bowling alley to watch my buddies bowl, and watch the sports network. I’m a big sports fan.”
At 108, Irma Macho was the oldest honoree present. She, too, had a similar experience.
“This is totally unexpected, but wonderful,” Macho said. “I didn’t know until today, but I’m glad I came.”
Dr. Fred Goldman, a retired podiatrist, was the oldest male honoree at 102.
The additional honorees were Katherine Appicello, Ethel Balken, Bertha Cades, Martha Campbell, Elias Cherian, Sylvia Edels, Zelma Finnegan, Margaret Haze, Helen Howland, Bill Kaliser, Irene Kline, Russell Leinberry, Nettie Lesch, Ruth Master, George Miller, Bebe Miller, Mary Oliver, Theresa Quaresima, Stella Reutlinger, Anne Shaeffer, Murray Shusterman, Mary Simms, Rose Smith, Jacob Snyder, Anna Stein, Fannye Taylor and Ruth Tengood.
While the day was cause for celebration, Hammer spoke about an additional purpose of the event: raising awareness about aging.
“Not only is it important for us to take care of our elders and make sure those people who built our fine country are given the respect they deserve, but it’s important that we raise awareness about what it means to age,” Hammer said. “Events like centenarian celebrations remind us that older adults need the same amount of services that everyone else does. They need community, they need socialization, they need good nutrition, they need access to the services. This event symbolizes the breadth and the scope of the importance of aging issues in our country.” ••