The Secret Sauce of Osborn Centenarians
By Robin Jovanovich and Tom McDermott
While covering graduations all over town, it seemed the perfect month to catch up with some of the 15 residents of The Osborn who have “graduated” to the esteemed age of 100. We were lucky to be able to spend quality time with five of them.
Joseph and Sheila Silberstein hold pride of place as the one couple their age at the senior living facility. They recently celebrated their 77th wedding anniversary. “We met in the Catskills when I was 16,” Mrs. Silberstein remembered fondly. Her husband was born in the Bronx, she in Eunice, Louisiana, a Cajun town. “We were the only Jewish family there. My uncle had a dry goods store.”
A big part of the Silberstein’s married life was spent abroad. When he enlisted in the Army in 1942, she followed him, working at camp headquarters. After the war, Mr. Silberstein, who had studied German and taken Spanish but was not fluent, took the Foreign Service exam and was off on a 30-year career. His work took them to Panama, Colombia, El Salvador, Austria, Chile, and three lengthy stays at the State Department.
“They don’t like you staying out of Washington for too long and have you forgetting you’re an American,” they noted.
Mrs. Silberstein was active in the League of Women Voters for many of the years they lived in Bethesda, Maryland. While she suffers from macular degeneration, she remains a voracious reader. “I ‘read” the New Yorker and The New York Times and listen to the selections for my book club through audio books.”
The Silberstein’s children encouraged them to move closer, and they’re glad they did because they spend many weekends with their children, grandchildren, and grandchildren at their son’s weekend home in Connecticut. “I am the matriarch of my family,” says Mrs. Silberstein and ours is a wonderful family. They keep us so happy.”
Born and bred in Cleveland, Louise Levy moved to Washington Heights in upper Manhattan, with her parents when she was 16. Her older brother was already living there, working for Warner Brothers.
“I didn’t like New York at first because I missed my friends, my routine, walking to school, but I soon adapted,” she said. She adapted so well that after she was married, she and her husband moved to the same building, at 106th Street and West End Avenue. “But we were on the other side, with a different elevator.”
In 1952, the Levys moved to Larchmont where they raised their family. Five years after her husband’s death in 1992, she found herself “stuck in a big house” and moved to fine quarters at The Osborn.
“It’s wonderful having my daughter, who lives in Mamaroneck and is sadly a widow herself, come over for dinner once a week. She even sleeps over some nights.”
Mrs. Levy, a very youthful 107, has been an Osborn resident longer than most, 22 years. What keeps her going in addition to family — four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren — is bridge three times a week. She also runs the Saturday documentary program. “I’ve enjoyed the camaraderie, the intimacy of a wonderful group of friends who came at the same time I did.” She added, “There are only six of us now.”
While she looks enviably fit, Mrs. Levy revealed that she didn’t exercise until she came to The Osborn — at the age of 85. “But I’m a regular in the gym and disciplined in my diet,” she said brightly.
Guy Lometti is physically active, walking 18-hole golf courses and going dancing whenever he can. As a young man, he could run with the best of them — “a 10.7-second man in the 100”.
During World War II he served in the Navy and was on active duty for close to six years. He remained in the Naval Reserve and retired a Lt. Commander. He married a Navy nurse. “We were married for half a century, and we did a lot of dancing,” he said with a smile. They had five children, two of them now retired. “One of our children is an academician, the youngest is an attorney,” he said with pride.
A Bronx native, Dr. Lometti returned to the Bronx after the war to set up his dental practice. He is a city boy at heart, having gone to Fordham University for his undergraduate degree and Columbia University College of Dental Medicine.
While he was happy in the home he’d built and lived in for close to 50 years, he has grown fond of his home at The Osborn. “Living in a community like this keeps you young.” He stopped driving this year but hopes not to have to stop dancing anytime soon.
Lee Starr, who turned 100 on June 10, played tennis until he was 97. “I quit driving that year, too.”
The former Allied department store executive describes life at The Osborn, where he has resided in a garden home for the last 11 years, as a “wonderful way to end your career.” He’s a self-described gym rat, who pushed for the enlargement of the gym.
For much of his life, he lived outside Boston, which explains why he is a Red Sox fan. He vividly recalled watching the 1927 Yankees playing at Fenway. “I saw Gehrig and Ruth both hit home runs that day.”
He was a member of the Harvard College class of 1940, along with John Fitzgerald Kennedy. “We were also both in the Naval Hospital together during an epidemic of German measles.”
The day after Pearl Harbor, Mr. Starr enlisted in the Navy and served more than four years in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, and Pacific.
After returning home, he worked for Jordan Marsh, the biggest store in Boston. He went on to a storied career.
In 1962, while president of the Department Store Association in Dallas, Mr. Starr became a leader in the integration of the community. “We mobilized the town, made a film which was shown at every large employer — corporations, hotels, stores. In one day, we integrated Dallas.”
The following year, on November 22, he was sitting by the door of the Dallas Trade Center waiting to greet his former classmate.
Lee Starr, the father of two sons, credits his longevity to “the love of two wonderful wives, both of whom I have sadly outlived, good genes, luck, and being a semi-jock.”
It is worth adding a quote from Jennifer Christensen, an Osborn administrator, “Life span expands in a community where there are meaningful relationships.”