Flushing family mourns late matriarch and centenarian who gave back to the community

The late Dorothy MacDonald celebrated her 103rd birthday last May with family. (Photo courtesy of Nancy MacDonald)

A Flushing centenarian who was known as a “quiet, shy and strong woman” who loved to read, died at the age of 103 on Sunday, March 7. 

The MacDonald family is remembering their late matriarch, Dorothy (also known as “Dottie”) MacDonald, who peacefully passed away in the middle of the night. MacDonald lived through the 1918 pandemic, two world wars and the COVID-19 pandemic, according to her daughter, Nancy. 

“I have good memories of her — going on a couple of trips with her and my aunt to Las Vegas,” Nancy said. “She was very independent, smart, and she had 20/20 vision until recently, which [is] almost unheard of.” 

MacDonald will be laid to rest on Friday, March 12, at Flushing Cemetery, located at 163-6 46th Ave. She is survived by her three children, five grandchildren and four great-children, with a new family member on the way. 

MacDonald was born on May 24, 1917. She was the first-born of three children to Rudolph and Marguerite Schnurer in College Point. 

At the age of 16, MacDonald became the youngest person ever to graduate from Flushing High School, which Nancy says is quite a remarkable achievement. She then worked for her father at his furniture upholstery company in Manhattan. Her mother was a dressmaker and they were both heavily involved in Queens civics throughout the 1950s. 

During World War II, MacDonald worked as a hostess at one of the United Service Organizations (USO) clubs, an American nonprofit charitable corporation that provides live entertainment, such as comedians, actors and musicians, social facilities, and other programs to members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their families. 

That’s where 25-year-old MacDonald met her future husband, James MacDonald, who was a soldier in the war. 

James MacDonald and Dorothy on their wedding day in 1944. (Photo courtesy of Nancy MacDonald)

“Back then, when the soldiers were stateside, there was a gathering and my mother would go only once a week,” Nancy said. “The women would talk to the soldiers and danced, and that was the beginning of their relationship.”

The couple tied the knot on July 21, 1944, at Fort Totten Army Base in Bayside before James left for Germany and France, according to Nancy. For five years, MacDonald lived with her parents until James returned to the states after the war ended. They were married for 58 years and had three children. James died at the age of 89 in February 2002. 

For over 25 years, MacDonald had worked as a school secretary at Francis Lewis High School in Fresh Meadows. According to Nancy, MacDonald took a break while raising her two sons, and then eventually went back to work full time. When she retired in her early 80s, MacDonald was focused on her paintings and artwork — an activity she very much loved, Nancy said. 

“She was a prolific painter and probably did over 100 paintings. It was mostly of landscapes and florals, vases of flowers, birds and fish,” Nancy said. “She also did some needle work, embroidery, and she was an avid reader up until the end.”

MacDonald was also a member of the Great Neck Women’s Club Inc., a philanthropic nonprofit organization that offered various activities and classes for women. Aside from painting and reading, MacDonald spent a lot of time with her grandchildren, whom she adored. She would often sit with her granddaughter and help her work on math problems, Nancy said.

According to Nancy, MacDonald lived a long, fruitful life that was simple and she was happy to work and able to spend time taking care of her grandchildren. MacDonald celebrated her 103rd birthday last May with cake and family members at the dining room table. It’s one of many memories that Nancy and her family will cherish of MacDonald. 

“We are incredibly lucky that we had her for so long. She didn’t suffer from any pain or disease,” Nancy said. “We’re grateful to have had her and happy she’s back with dad.”