Cost of admission to annual Dalton party: Be 90 or older
The Dalton Senior Center echoed this week with laughter at inside jokes and chuckles from friends accustomed to each others' quirks.
A group of 30 local seniors gathered Wednesday for a joint birthday party hosted by the town's Council on Aging and senior center to celebrate a milestone few reach — all invited guests have at least entered their 90th year.
Several were soon to reach 100, or had even passed that milestone.
Their uniqueness was not lost on them. Several mentioned old friends and family who have died, leaving them the sole survivors.
People aged 90 and older make up only about 5 percent of Americans over 65.
The town's Council on Aging and senior center host the communal birthday party every year to recognize contributions they've made to the community over their lives.
"It's a way of honoring the town's most venerable," said Kelly Pizzi, director of the council and senior center.
As long as they've lived, some attendees expressed a hope for even more.
"I hope to make 100," said Dalton resident Doris Green, who celebrated her 95th birthday in May.
Honorees celebrated over a lunch of chicken marsala, roasted vegetables, romaine strawberry salad and — of course — cake.
Many were repeat attendees of the yearly party, or frequent patrons of the senior center.
"I'm 90, he's 94," Gloria Patryn said of herself and her husband, Aleksy Patryn. "I've been bringing him since he was 90."
Compared to a few of those in attendance, the two are young.
"We have people here that are in between 99 and 102," Pizzi said to the group. "This is something for all the rest of us to strive for."
Harry Russell and Donald Thibodeau received special recognition for their coming 100th birthdays. Lily Watkins, 102, was also recognized.
Odessa Daoust and Robert Rood — both 103 years old — were unable to attend.
Thibodeau will be 100 next January.
He worked in maintenance at local schools for 20 years. He was also briefly in the dry-cleaning business after World War II. An injury he sustained during the war to his right hand limited his options for work.
Thibodeau was a member of the infantry in World War II from late 1942 to 1945, wounded three times. He served with his unit in North Africa, Sicily and Italy, making it to the Rhine River before his last injury took him from battlefields for good.
"I knew the war was all over for me," he said. "I came home in class. I was on the Queen Mary."
Thibodeau is the only one of his siblings still alive.
"I've been noticing," he said. "I used to know a lot of individuals who used to come here. They're gone, I guess."
Thibodeau's journey to Dalton began in his native Quebec, which he left with his mother and siblings as a child. He's lived in Dalton for almost 70 years.
Originally from Bomisch-Kamnitz, Germany, Helga Knappe moved to Dalton with her military husband more than 60 years ago.
After he died, she went back to being a nurse for 20 years before retiring.
"Why would I want to stay home and waste time?" she asked.
Knappe described how she stays busy now that she has retired — she teaches knitting on Tuesdays and volunteers at the front desk at the senior center.
"That's the key — to keep your mind busy," she said. "You should not sit back. That's your downfall ... Enjoy life. Keep moving. Keep going."
Geneva Dear said she couldn't believe she'll be 91 in October.
"Never thought I'd say it," said Dear, who admits she expected to die by age 40.
Just klutzy, she said.
Dear has been coming to the senior center for about 10 years, soon after she moved to Berkshire County from her native New York City.
She came to Wednesday's lunch without a guest. "I was looking for some of my friends," she said. "Quite a few of my friends have passed away."
Dear's oldest friend is still in New York. The two have been close since Dear was a teenager.
Clara and Lee Gomes came to the lunch together. Both have attended the event for the past few years.
"They always have a good meal," Clara Gomes said.
Lee Gomes is 92. Clara Gomes is almost 97. They have been married for 67 years.
"It's had its moments," Clara Gomes said of their union.
At the celebration of all the life they've lived, Lee Gomes recalled seeing the emergence of television and modern airplanes in past decades.
The biggest change for Clara Gomes was computers.
"I think they're a wonderful thing," she said. "You can discover anything. [But] some people stay glued to it. I think life should be what it is — life."
Reach staff writer Patricia LeBoeuf at 413-496-6247 or @BE_pleboeuf.
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