Family celebrates birthday of Flushing centenarian

Gertrude Coopersmith's granddaughter Melissa Rubin adjusts her grandmother's corsage during Coopersmith's 100th birthday party. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Connor Adams Sheets

A century after her birth, a Flushing woman celebrated her life with several dozen members of her extensive extended family Sunday afternoon.

Gathering in the glass-enclosed roof of the Flushing House Senior Retirement Residence, at 38-20 Bowne St., Gertrude Coopersmith’s kin regaled her with music, conversation and laughter and sat by her side two at a time to hear tales from her past and advice for their futures.

“As long as I keep my marbles, I don’t care how long I live,” said Coopersmith, whose birthday falls on April 1. The centenarian retains her wit, acuity and health in spite — or perhaps because of — her years, although she misses her sister Julia, who lived with her at Flushing House for years until she died in October at the age of 101, and her husband Hy, who died in 1995 while playing violin.

Four generations of Coopersmith’s family — who trace their roots to Hungary — came from far and wide to attend the birthday party, including three children, seven grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Her youngest great-grandchild is two, while the oldest is 27.

Great-grandniece Sadie Mager, 9, was at the younger end of the spectrum. She played “Yellow Submarine” by The Beatles on the piano to entertain her eldest relation, who tapped her foot and nodded her head while her family sang along.

Sadie, who lives in Massachusetts — the state of Coopersmith’s birth — said she was happy to ring in such a joyous happening with her family.

“I think she is very healthy for that age and she’s doing really well,” she said. “I think she lived so long because she ate good foods and took care of herself and exercised.”

Melissa Rubin, a Manhattan resident and one of Coopersmith’s granddaughters, said Gertrude and Julia lived for years in rooms next door to each other at Flushing House, and the family paid to have a door installed between the two. The two sisters had been close since childhood and that relationship was an important part of her life, Rubin said.

“Until recently, she lived with her sister, and that might have helped her keep going,” Rubin said. “She’s always lived a life of moderation. I don’t think she drank a drop of alcohol in her life. She’s really active, she’s done Bingo. Until recently she was a very fierce knitter until her sight started going a little bit. She’s very sociable, but she’s very humble.”

Coopersmith worked in the Works Progress Administration helping unemployed people find jobs during the Great Depression after graduating from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn and receiving her substitute license to teach at the Maxwell Teacher Training School, also in Brooklyn.

Coopersmith’s daughter Miriam Feinstein, of Suffolk County, said her mother was hesitant about the celebration.

“When we first said we’re going to have a 100th birthday party, she said, ‘No, I don’t want to,’ but we said, ‘Mom, it’s a happy occasion,’ and she said, ‘OK,’ and she’s been very excited about the party ever since,” she said. “It’s so nice to have everybody together for a happy occasion.”

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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