A little more than 50 years ago, Frances Reder moved from Manhattan to East Meadow and opened an Army-Navy store on Front Street, called Reder Surplus, with her late husband, Louis.
The shop had been open for only a year when Frances, aiming to enhance the allure of the local business community, helped establish the East Meadow Chamber of Commerce. Louis became its first president, and his wife took the reins as the president shortly after.
Since then, the Chamber has grown exponentially, boasting a network of hundreds of business owners whose mission is to ensure a flourishing local economy.
Reder, whose family would grow to include nine children, has never left the local scene, having moved to Westbury in the 1960s. She moved into Bristal Assisted Living, also in Westbury, three years ago.
After years of operating Reder Surplus’s East Meadow location, and then a second store in Merrick, Reder worked as a clerk in the Nassau County court system for 30 years before retiring. In between, she helped found the East Meadow Kiwanis Club, which, at the time, was a male-dominated organization. And on Feb. 27, capping a lifetime full of milestones, Reder, surrounded by her siblings, children, grandchildren, friends and admirers, celebrated another one: her 100th birthday.
Two of her daughters, Rosemary Reder — who flew in from Florida for the occasion — and Anne Jensen, organized the centenary celebration. Reder’s other daughter, Gale Anziano, died 10 years ago. “My mother’s been waiting for this day to come,” said Rosemary. “I’m so happy that it turned out so successful and that so many wonderful people arrived.”
Among the celebrants were County Legislator Norma Gonsalves, former County Executive Thomas Gulotta and Gulotta’s brother, Frank, a Nassau County judge. Gonsalves said she has known Reder since her early days as a member of the Chamber of Commerce, as well as Kiwanis. “At one point, Kiwanis was really a male-oriented club,” Gonsalves recalled. “And eventually they opened the door to women.”
The legislator joked that she doesn’t often have the opportunity to attend 100th birthday parties. “And when I heard about Fran’s,” she said, “I said, that’s even better, because I know her. I was thrilled to come today.”
Reder is one of four surviving children of Rosaria and Charles Silece. Her sisters Rose, Regina Riccardi and Dolores Storch were on hand to celebrate with their sister. Her sisters Jean, Anna, Grace and Mary, and her brother, Frank, have all died.
“She’s a phenomenal gal,” said Riccardi, who spent years doing publicity for CBS, including work on the “Ed Sullivan Show.” “She has a beautiful family.”
Cori Vanchieri, Reder’s granddaughter, drove up from Maryland to attend the celebration. She said she idolized her grandmother as a child, when she lived next door to her in Westbury. “I saw my grandmother always involved with politics and the courts,” she said. “I looked up to her as this great businesswoman, and there was lots of love in the house, so I’m happy to be here today.”
East Meadow resident Steve Haller presented Reder with a Lifetime Achievement Award on behalf of the Chamber of Commerce, and recounted a past encounter with her. Years ago, Haller said, he was in court, paying a fine, when Reder approached him and greeted him warmly.
“She gives me a big hug and a big kiss,” he said, “and everybody’s wondering, who is this guy? She made me feel very welcome in the middle of the court.”
Midway through the party, Rosemary surprised her mother — and the audience — when she presented her with a letter from President Obama, congratulating her on her milestone birthday. “We are pleased to join your family and friends in wishing you a happy 100th birthday,” the letter read. “We are grateful for your contribution to the American story, and we wish you all the best in the coming year.” It was signed by both the president and first lady.
Rosemary, who studied special events at Cornell University, is the founder and president of the American Flag Society, a nonprofit organization that aims to preserve the integrity of the American flag. She helped plan the presidential inaugurations of George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush, and also worked on the transition teams for the Clinton and Obama administrations. She said she managed to “pull some strings” with former colleagues to arrange the presidential letter.
“We gave her a tribute that she certainly deserves,” Rosemary said, “because she did so much for so many for so long.”
Her mother, meanwhile, decked out in a sparkling gold dress that was handpicked by Rosemary, greeted old friends and observed the proceedings with a giant smile. When her daughter passed her the microphone, she said simply, “God bless all you wonderful people for being here on my 100th birthday.”