Senior living community Belmont Village of Oak Park hosted a celebration, Oct. 1, honoring six very special residents who will be 100 years old or more by the end of 2019. The centenarians dined on surf and turf, followed by cake and champagne, surrounded by friends and family, who were invited to attend.

“I think the thing that’s unusual and is one of the reasons that prompted us to celebrate, is having six centenarians in one building,” said activities coordinator Leanna McKenzie. “To have six within 110 to 130 residents is pretty amazing.”

Many expressed a desire to do something special for the residents who had already, or were about to, achieve a century of living. 

“A couple of our residents approached me about a month ago and said, ‘We should do something for them. It’s amazing we have so many,'” recalled McKenzie. Staff had already been planning the event for a few months. 

The event honored June Ireland, 102; Doris Gruskin, 101; Mary Bellile, 100; Ted Ratajczyk, 100; and Muriel Sweeney, who had her 100 birthday a week before the celebration on Sept. 23. Gisela Stalzer, who turns 100 years old this month, was also honored.

“They’ve lived through amazing things,” said McKenzie. “They were born in 1917, 1918, 1919; how much the world has changed in the time they’ve been on the Earth.”

The crew of century-old seniors has more than just the gift of long life in common. “One thing that’s similar across the board is they’re all very laid-back people,” said McKenzie. 

To make sure the centenarians looked and felt their best at the party, a professional came the morning of to style hair and give manicures. Belmont Village covered all pre-party pampering costs.

 The five ladies were given corsages to wear on their wrists the day of and at the party. Ratajczyk, the sole male centenarian, got a boutonniere, which he wore pinned to his plaid button-down shirt. 

The party officially kicked off at 4:30, when centenarians and guests sat down for dinner. To mark the occasion, staff draped white cloths over each table. Attendees toasted the six with champagne. 

After dinner, centenarians shared fun facts about their lives and offered pearls of wisdom to those in attendance. 

The secret to longevity and good health most of the centenarians credited to having good genes. However, June Ireland said hers comes from having “a daily 4 o’clock cocktail.” Ireland’s drink of choice is cognac. 

“It has to be Courvoisier VSOP,” said Ireland’s son, who sat next to her. On Thursdays, Ireland plays poker with McKenzie and usually wins.

Muriel Sweeney, Mary Bellile and Gisela Stalzer agreed the best advice for young people is to work hard and get an education, while Doris Gruskin, who has lived in Oak Park since kindergarten, offered a different bit of sage guidance.

“Don’t try to be a martyr,” she said. 

Ireland instructed young people to be kind and helpful, Ratajczyk said, “Listen to your parents!” He grew up on a dairy farm and, yes, literally walked two miles uphill for school every day.

When asked what the most important invention of their lifetime was, Ireland and Ratajczyk both said television. For Sweeney, it was air conditioning.

Mary Bellile said her six children are the most important inventions of her lifetime. Three of them were able to come to the celebration. For Bellile, this is the best decade she has lived. “I am very happy with my life here at Belmont Village,” she said.

Ratajczyk, a veteran, said the best decade of his life was coming home from World War II, marrying his wife Mildred and having children. He was stationed in New Guinea and Australia and served as a technician, fifth grade.

Muriel Sweeney’s best decades were those when her children were young, calling it
“busy, but wonderful.”

Gisela Stalzer doesn’t have a favorite. “The government was corrupt in every decade,” she said. Stalzer was a globetrotter, having lived in Istanbul, Paris, Romania and Germany. She even visited Antarctica.

During her long life, Doris Gruskin has nothing she wishes she had done or visited in her life, saying, “If I never got around to it, it probably wasn’t worth it.”

At the end of the party, each centenarian received a framed poster with special facts from the year they were born, such as the price of gas and groceries, as well as movies and popular music. Each poster also had a picture of the centenarian when they were young.

According to McKenzie, the event was a lot of work to put on, but well worth it to see how happy it made the centenarians. 

“It was really special,” she said. “To have six centenarians who are just such kind people, I think, is really inspiring.”

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