West Orange celebrates some of its oldest residents

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WEST ORANGE, NJ — The last 100 years and the people who have lived to see them were celebrated Feb. 28, as seven people who turned 100 or older were honored at Stratford Manor in West Orange. Ranging in age from 99 to 108, and born between 1909 and 1918, James Milligan, Lennox Agnes, Ida Pitts, Willie Bell Byrd, Ethel Bethea, Mildred Saunders and Emmiline Keith were wished “happy birthday” as several community leaders and residents of the nursing home came together for the event.

“West Orange has about 50,000 people in it,” Mayor Robert Parisi said to the centenarians at the event. “And a lot of time is spent trying to make that many people happy. That never happens. But I think I speak for all of us when I say you give us hope, so thank you.”

West Orange fire Chief Tony Vecchio was also on hand to share in the birthday festivities.

“You all have seen a lot in that time,” he said. “Not all of it has been good. Thank you for giving us that perspective, and happy birthday.”

Meir Papa, an administrator at Stratford Manor who has been working there for the last two months, said that having seven people in the same place all hit 100 is not a frequent occurrence.

“This doesn’t happen often, it’s really uncommon,” he said in an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event. “It’s definitely important to celebrate something like this, I’m happy to share in the celebration.”

Yakov Dorfman, a Stratford Manor owner, agreed that having that many people turn 100 who live under the same roof is a rare occurrence.

“It’s something that few people get a chance to have,” he told the Chronicle in an interview at the event. “It doesn’t just do something for those people, it does something for the ones living around them as well. To see someone make it that long and be alert and aware is encouraging for anyone, and to see someone like that is especially encouraging to someone who is dealing with an illness.”

Dorfman also stressed the importance of the caretakers who work at Stratford Manor.

“Everyone here is attentive and caring,” he said. “You’d be amazed to see what goes on. This is definitely something to celebrate.”

Photos by Amanda Valentovic