Seminole Resident Celebrates Her 110th Birthday
June 28, 2014
Seminole resident, Helma Graham, is having a birthday! She was born in Manhattan on 6/28/04 but shockingly this is not her 10th birthday it is her 110th birthday. Helma was born in the year 1904 and is now classified as a Supercentenarian, one who has lived to or passed their 110th birthday.
During her first few years of life she grew up very close to the outskirts of Central Park in the area of 8th Avenue and Broadway. The area is now Columbus Circle and is an entrance to Central Park. Her earliest recollection was living on Amsterdam Avenue between 67th and 68th Avenue and next to a fire station. She loved fire engines and her mom, Theresa, always closed the windows when the engines would go by to keep her from climbing out the window following the trucks. The first engine that would pass had a big smoke stack and the second carried a large barrel of water and was pulled by many horses. Henry, her father, was self employed and owned two Hansoms and would frequently ride by the home and wave knowing that Helma was watching.
Helma was an only child and her father died when she was only 8 years old. After his death, they moved to Secaucus, New Jersey where they bought two lots and had a house built with the insurance money. Her mother worked from home as a seamstress sewing together police uniforms. At that time the officers were required to purchase their own.
After completing 8th grade, Helma went into business school since she was good with numbers which helped her to secure accounting jobs. One of these jobs was at Ferguson Bros. Mfg. This furniture company closed it doors in 1945 and its catalog is archived at the Hoboken Historical Museum.
One day her cousin introduced her to George Graham. One their first date in 1925, they ended up at a Yankees game and she fell in love with both George and the Yankees. The Yankee games became her regular Sunday afternoon entertainment. She enjoyed watching Babe Ruth even though she thought he drank too much. On July 4, 1939, she was at Yankee Stadium for Lou Gehrig’s famous speech after being diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in which he said the following, “today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”
Helma lived in Secaucus for 75 years where they owned a general store and raised 4 children. The general store kept the entire family busy working from 7am until 9pm each day while making and delivering salads, roast beef, roast pork, and chicken. George passed away in 1936 when Richard was only 8 years old. Richard ended up serving as Fire Chief of the Secaucus Fire Department. Many of her grandchildren also worked as firefighters for the same Fire Department.
Just a few years ago, Helma summed up her day this way:
This is what I do in the mornings. I have breakfast, I do my kitchen dishes, put away my dishes, then I go to my bedroom, straighten my bedroom, wash and dress for the day, and then I say, “Now What?” By that time, it may be 11 o’clock. Because between each of them, I come out and I sit in my chair for at least 15 minutes. That’s what the doctor told me. He says, “ Do something, but then always sit.” And that’s it.
Her current physician, Dr. Steven Seltzer, was just starting medical school as Helma was celebrating her 85th birthday. Dr. Seltzer attended the party to help her to celebrate this special day. I refrained from questioning her about how she chose a NY Mets fan for a physician since the current arrangement seems to be working very well.
In addition, about 75 others came out to help Helma celebrate this special birthday at the community’s clubhouse. Many family members traveled from other areas of Florida, Virginia, and New Jersey. During the party she even took a phone call on an Iphone from a cousin in Oregon. Her grandchildren (George, Charlie, Laurie, and Nancy) spoke of their great memories together. They described her being tough and said she was like the grandmother for the whole neighborhood. They spoke of her fabulous cooking all in cast iron pans and their continued frequent use of her recipes. Much of her cooking was influenced by her German heritage. Even today, she still loves to Crochet!
Before the party I had heard some discussion about Helma’s selfie. I spoke with her great granddaughter, Sara who was visiting from Woodbridge, New Jersey. She had the task of explaining to Helma about selfies. “Yes it is a camera……yes it is a phone,” she told her great grandmother. A couple taps of the screen and at the age of 110 she took her first selfie. She refers to laptops as laprobes and wonders why people sit with those things all the time.
Hearing about this birthday party, I immediately became concerned about the possible risks involved with 110 burning candles atop a birthday cake. I was convinced that it could be managed but given her family history of fire service and her love of fire engines, Seminole Fire Rescue agreed to stop by. She was thrilled with the visit as they stopped by and wished her a Happy Birthday. They stood by with their fire extinguisher as the candles burned. The Fire Department received an emergency call for service and need to leave the party but she was truly touched by the visit.
I had to ask what a person which is turning 110 wants for her birthday. “Flowers and scratch off lottery tickets,” said Helma. She sat at the table which was full of beautiful flowers and numerous lotto tickets while wearing her tiara, drinking coffee, eating birthday cake and being surrounded by loving friends and family.
I’ve always tried to make the best of whatever life gives me. My advice for living long and happy years is to stay active and continue to do the things that you’ve always done and still enjoy doing. – Helma Graham
I am looking forward to an invitation to next year party…..
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