By Anna Mejorada
Last month, West Side Rag covered a party celebrating 14 centenarians who all reside at the Amsterdam Nursing Home on the corner of Amsterdam Avenue and West 112th Street. Today, the oldest of the group, Sylvia Zucker, is turning 106. I visited Sylvia last week to hear more about her life. Her son, Carl Zucker, provided additional insight into her experience from his perspective via email.
Born on August 12, 1916, Sylvia grew up on East 97th Street and First Avenue with two sisters, Anna and Dora, and her parents, who years before had fled Russia to avoid persecution. From a young age, Sylvia showed a strong interest in art and poetry — admiring, studying, and creating her own. She set her sights on becoming a teacher and achieved her goal. She taught fourth and fifth grades for several years in Westbury, New York. In that town on Long Island, she raised two children, Lisa and Carl, with her husband, Arthur, who was “a devoted and caring husband,” Carl shared. “They were very close.” Arthur died at the age of 89.
When I asked Sylvia what the greatest invention of her lifetime has been, she exclaimed “toilets” which brought a chuckle to everyone in the room. “She did grow up in a railroad tenement apartment with a shared toilet in the hall,” Carl explained. She was “very active in the Civil Rights and Anti-Nuclear War movement,” he added. “She attended Martin Luther King’s March on Washington.”
Sylvia’s favorite time of year in the city is the month of May. According to Carl, that is the month in which she celebrates her anniversary and the birthday of her late husband. “She also likes Spring [because] of her love of flowers, which are one of her passions. Her sister and brother-in-law owned a flower shop where she worked in her 20s.”
Sylvia’s love of flowers and art has not faded, and she continues to paint and sketch during her free time. She attributes her longevity to “being around nice people,” and if she could pass on any wisdom to younger generations, she said she would instead, “spend the afternoon teaching them to be considerate and singing.” She is a soprano and her favorite song is “I Wanna Be Loved By You”. As we made our way to her room to see some of her artwork, she started humming her favorite tune to herself.
When asked what piece of advice from his mom he would pass along, Carl shared, “appreciate nature and art, and accept and adjust.” He strongly admires “her love and knowledge of art and that she continues to make art.” She also loves playing games – particularly Scrabble – and has started to learn how to play the piano. She enjoys eating chicken, “maybe with a little bit of vegetables”, but definitely followed by ice cream with chocolate drizzled on top.
Hope everyone takes a moment to celebrate Sylvia today!