Intellectual curiosity and passion for learning inspires 100-year-old resident
There were three birthday parties for Miriam Schwartz, resident of The Orchards at Southington, when she turned 100 years old earlier this year. She was thrilled that her three daughters and other loved ones were able to come from across the country for the momentous occasion.
Miriam enjoyed the celebrations but said she doesn’t really know why she has lived one century. When asked, she speculated that genetics may have played the biggest role. “I ate carefully, never drank milk but did have a lot of yogurt,” she said. “But I was always busy; I never could just sit.”
Miriam is still not just sitting. Keeping mentally active is important to her. Since she moved to The Orchards 10 years ago, she has participated in the book discussion club, low vision support group and WISE program, which gives older adults and college students the opportunity to learn about each other and their generations. She laments that it is difficult to obtain large quantities of large-print books so more people can be involved. She now finds it easier to read books on her iPad and just finished the autobiography of Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor. “I can’t wait to read Hillary’s next book,” she said, referring to Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Miriam’s own life could be used as a guidebook for longevity. Since childhood, Miriam has had a passion for learning, been active in her Jewish faith, been purposeful in rising each morning and been surrounded by loved ones, all factors that global studies have shown to be instrumental in enjoying a long, happy life.
She was born in New York City to Lithuanian and Russian immigrants. An only child, she said her parents indulged her in piano and singing lessons. Her grandmother took her to Hebrew school, which at that time was common for boys, not girls. After high school graduation she headed to New York University where she studied geology, French and music.
“I had never known about the earth and air so I thought I’d study geology. However, Mother was upset so I took French to teach it but never did,” Miriam explained. She also continued singing, even performing in the chorus of the opera “Madame Butterfly” while she was in her late teens.
She still sings, recently offering a visitor a rousing rendition of “The Sheik of Araby,” a song that was popular in the 1920s. The song reminded her of when she was a teenager and saw Babe Ruth in a movie theater in Philadelphia, while she was watching a Rudolph Valentino movie.
This memory is just one of many that Miriam likes to recall. She especially enjoys reminiscing about her husband, Milton Schwartz, a New Haven native, who was a lawyer but went into business with his father repairing garments, upholstery and rugs. She was 25 when they got married on her birthday. In New Haven, they raised three daughters, Maxine, a physician, Elizabeth, a lawyer, and Jessica, a professor.
She later took a position as the administrator of the Department of Vertebrate Paleontology at Yale where she thrived on the academic stimulation and interaction with students. “I’m proud about Yale and I did a good job. When I was supposed to retire they said they didn’t want me to. They appreciated me,” she remembered.
Miriam passed on her zeal for learning to their daughters. “On road trips we would stop and analyze the rocks in every road cut,” remembered Maxine. “We couldn’t appreciate her accomplishments then. To us she was just ‘mom.’”
When Miriam retired, she became even more active in several Jewish service organizations and the Jewish Historical Society of Greater New Haven. “I would still be working there,” she said. “But my husband’s eyes were bad. He sold his business and I went home to take care of him. That was the end of my working life.” They enjoyed 64 years of marriage before he passed away at age 96.
With her house too large for just one person, she started looking for a new place to call home. She moved to The Orchards after visiting a friend who lived in the independent and assisted living community. She surrounds herself with family and friends, and credits her aides, Lana and Maria, with making it possible for her to live so well.
This centenarian is still eager to learn and delights in Internet chats with her family. “When they first invented TV, they said that someday we would be able to talk to it. I thought that was very interesting and now they did it. It was a thrilling moment the first time I ‘Facetimed,’” she remarked.
Her family holds great admiration for their mother who dared to do many things that other women of her generation never did. “Mom always knew everything. Even now, if we can’t remember something, we ask Mom,” Maxine said. Living to age 100 has been a blessing to them all and they hold great appreciation for her life and wisdom, she added.
Miriam is content living at The Orchards and continues to be inspired every day. “If you live long enough you are bound to learn something,” she concluded.
The Orchards at Southington Senior Olympians
The Orchards at Southington receives SeniorAdvisor.com Best and GreenCircle awards