WURTSBORO – Woodrow Wilson was in the White House and war raged in Europe when Esther Levine was born into this world on January 14, 1915, in Wurtsboro, to parents who had fled Czarist Russia.
Levine, the youngest of six children, was the guest of honor Wednesday afternoon at a party thrown by fellow members of the Mamakating Senior Citizens club. “We love her,” said Mickey Maher, president of the seniors’ group and Mayor of Wurtsboro.
Levine will celebrate her actual 104th birthday on Monday, in her own home in Wurtsboro. She is “going strong” and has no interest in a nursing home, says nephew Harold Diamond, himself 85 years old and among the 40 or so people on hand at Mamakating Town Hall.
“Everybody here knows me,” Levine said, motioning to the room. They ought to. She has lived her entire life in the village.
“I better be careful of what I say,” Levine cautioned herself when told she was talking to the press. No worries. She was gracious, patient and a model of decorum.
Levine says she is the last surviving sibling, four of whom were born in Russia. She also lost her husband, Joseph, an accountant, in 2001. But her sons, Sherman and Jay, both doctors, are alive and well, as are five grandchildren and six great-grandkids, said Vanet Barrett, an aide who lives with Levine.
Levine says she grew up on a dairy farm and graduated from Middletown High School and New Paltz Normal School, now SUNY New Paltz. She taught in a one-room school house. “They were all mine when they came through the door,” she says, recalling her students, who were as young as five and as old as sixteen.
Her family eventually left farming and founded the Wurtsboro Steam Laundry. Levine worked as the company bookkeeper until the family sold the laundry in 1967, Diamond said.
“Nothing that I owe it to,” answers Levine, after pausing to think for a moment about what might be responsible for her long life.
She did say that as youngsters she and her brothers and sister “learned quickly that everybody helped everybody else.”
That bit of wisdom seems to have worked out just fine.