On Jan. 12, Helen Brezil became the newest centenarian at the assisted-living facility the Regency at Glen Cove. She celebrated the big day with a birthday cake and decorations, but because of coronavirus restrictions, members of her family had to share the celebration from outside a window.
“I can’t believe I’m 100 years old,” Brezil said. “As a little girl growing up in the Bronx, to hear the age 100 was not imaginable. Now, look at me. I’m 100 years old.”
Despite the physical barrier separating Brezil from her daughter, granddaughters and soon-to-be grandson-in-law, the love they shared was made evident in tears, waves, the blowing of kisses and the singing of “Happy Birthday To You.”
“It’s the first time I’ve seen her in quite a while,” said Helen’s daughter, Enid Brezil. “I talk to her twice a day. And she looked beautiful. They take such good care of her. She has an aide who is just wonderful. She treats her like she’s her mom. She makes sure she has the nails done and the hair done.”
Helen said she has been a good and thoughtful person throughout her life, been blessed by, among things, six great-grandchildren. “I am very lucky,” she said.
“It’s just really incredible to witness this and to see what a milestone this is,” said her granddaughter Lisa Lucatorto. “It’s rare that people get to celebrate this, and we’re so fortunate to have this incredible woman as the leader of our family. We still get to see her smiling every day.”
Enid described her mother as someone who has always looked forward and never back. She said she believed it was Helen’s positive outlook on life that enabled her to reach this landmark. “If you have a bad day,” Enid said, “she’ll make your day great, because she’ll [tell you] why you should be happy.”
Helen grew up in the Bronx. When she was young, she had to become a caregiver for her four brothers because her mother suffered from glaucoma, which eventually blinded her. Helen has only one surviving younger brother, who is 85 and lives in North Carolina.
She met the love of her life, Jack Brezil, over eight decades ago, and they married in 1940. They raised two daughters, Enid and Jerri, in Manhattan, and later moved to Queens. Helen wanted to provide more for her daughters then she had growing up, and for decades she worked as a secretary at the Internal Revenue Service.
Jack died in 2010, and five years later Helen moved to the Regency. “She has a lot of friends,” Lucatorto said. “She is well loved here. You could see that they love her.”
Brezil attends Shabbat services every Sunday, and was even able to celebrate a belated bat mitzvah with fellow Regency residents. “As a young Jewish girl in the 1930s, it was unheard of for a girl to have a bat mitzvah,” she said. “To be able to have a bat mitzvah in my 90s was a day I will never forget.”
“She’s just a class act,” said Stella Shank, the Regency’s longtime director of special projects. “Always smiling, always very appreciative. All the residents know her, and if it was a normal Regency day, we’d be having a big birthday bash with all the residents downstairs, but obviously with Covid, we’ve had to limit that. She’s just someone fun to be around.”
Brezil exercises almost every morning, Shank said, and often gets her hair and nails done. And, along with almost all of the Regency’s residents, she will get her first Covid vaccination next week.
Her family members said they were looking forward to when there would no longer be a window between them. Helen herself often tells them that better days are ahead.
“I am a happy woman,” she said. “I am appreciative of my life’s blessings and my family. At the end of the day, that’s what we have, our family.”