Seniors gather to celebrate a milestone


Chris O’Leary, the director of the Sandel Senior Center, said that with the help of the Friends of Senior Services fundraising organization, Sandel decided to do something special to celebrate 47 of its members, who are turning 90 or older this year.

“Pretty impressive, right?” O’Leary said. “This a very special day here.”

Thirty-one of the 47, along with their friends and relatives, were invited to the center, on South Park Avenue in Rockville Centre, last Friday for the special occasion.

“I can’t believe it,” one of the honorees, Dorothy Murphy, said. “I turned 90, going on 91. I’m just flabbergasted.”

Murphy, like several other celebrants, said she was thankful to the center and its staff for the opportunity to mark a milestone in the company of close friends and relatives.

“This is my family,” she said. “This is my community. I was born and raised in Rockville Centre, and I’m happy to have the privilege of being here.”

Murphy said that she forgets about all the aches and pains that come with old age and just keeps on trucking.

The seniors at the center are revered not only for their long lives, O’Leary said, but also for experiences they have accumulated. “We always say that age is just a number, and we all know that’s true,” she said. “It’s so wonderful to be here and to see happy, active, fulfilled senior seniors enjoying their lives, having a ball.”

In recognition of the contributions and life achievements of the community’s eldest population, village officials presented a proclamation thanking them for their enthusiasm, energy and wisdom.

“Longevity of life is a blessing for an individual and for a community which benefits from the knowledge, creativity and experience these individuals bring to all,” Mayor Francis Murray said. “Our older adults are active community members involved in volunteering, mentoring, arts and culture, and civic engagement, and the Village of Rockville Centre is inspired by the life of our seniors who are celebrating special birthdays, and offer them sincere best wishes for continued good health, happiness and an overflowing abundance of love and joy.”

Sari Rifeberg, a former teacher in the Bellmore-Merrick school district who now lives in Rockville Centre, said she always enjoys the chance to spend time at the Sandel Center. “The people here are very friendly,” she said.

Deputy Mayor Kathy Baxley called the center “the happiest place” in the state. “Every time I come in here, I can’t stop smiling,” Baxley said. “Thank you for including us, as you always do. Happy birthday to all of you.”

Baxley said that in addition to the village’s proclamation, each of the senior honorees celebrating the 90-plus milestone received a citation from County Legislator Howard Kopel. 

Connie Rocco, who will turn 98 this year, received a special round of applause from the crowd in recognition of being the eldest of all those in attendance. Rocco said that she still vividly remembered some of the major events of her lifetime, particularly her wedding day and the family and friends who attended. “My husband was so handsome,” she said.

Sitting across from her, her friend Jean Tarantola, who was also celebrating 90 years or more, said she remembered the “duck-and-cover” drills she and her classmates practiced in school during the Cold War, in the event of a nuclear attack.

“They made us go under our desks,” Tarantola recalled. “I was so scared.”

Cass Pena, 94, said he remembered when Franklin D. Roosevelt was in the Oval Office. Born in Spain, he and his family traveled by boat from Lisbon, Portugal, to New York when he was only 10.

U.S. Army veteran Howard Pivnick said he fondly remembered his time in the service, and having a good time at college when he returned home. “Looking back at my life, it was a lot of pleasure,” Pivnick said. “I got to go to some interesting places, and I intend to keep on going.”

Another of the senior celebrants, Teresa Conforti, said her most vivid memory was of giving birth to her first child and seeing her for the first time.

Marie Hodgins, who was also celebrating turning 90, could relate. Born in Ireland, Hodgins traveled all over the globe, from London to Lima, Peru, and gave birth to four children in three different countries.