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The Civic Scene: Two centenarians hail from Fresh Meadows

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Two residents of Fresh Meadows, whom I know very well, have reached their 100th year. One is a retired ornamental architectural craftsman named Joseph Brush. The other is a retired lawyer named Julia W. Harris — who happens to be my mother.

Joe Brush, born Sept. 10, 1901, is an original owner on my block in Fresh Meadows. He purchased his home when it was built in 1940. He is spry and only uses a cane to walk up or down steps. For decades I remember seeing Joe walk the neighborhood for hours.

Joe tells me that his family came to Connecticut in 1643. His ancestor Richard Brush had been asked by the governor to negotiate with the Indians for the land which is now Huntington, L.I.

Joe, the last of seven brothers and sisters, is as sharp as anyone a quarter his age. He had attended Commercial High School. in Brooklyn, then attended nearby Hefley Institution for business studies and finally Pratt Institute where he studied illustration and draftsmanship.

He eventually pursued a 45-year career as a ornamental architectural craftsman with some friends in College Point, setting up Bronze Work, Inc. He worked in bronze, aluminum, silver, stainless steel and nickel. They decorated banks, churches, and synagogues in Queens, as well as the old Corn Exchange Bank in the Empire State Building, the great center doors and windows of the main library at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, the ventilator shaft buildings of the Holland and Lincoln tunnels, parts of Radio City Music Hall, and more.

During World War II his company made manifolds and strainers for combat ships. He was not called into the military because in the 1920s he had joined the 13th Regiment Coast Defense Command in Brooklyn. He did serve as an air raid warden during the war. After the war the company made aluminum storm doors and windows.

Joe dabbled in painting and displays several of his works in his house. His philosophy is: “Keep cheerful, have a positive attitude, take one day at a time and don’t make trouble.”

Joe is the father of three children — one has died — and he has 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren with two more on the way.

Julia W. Harris, born Aug. 15, 1901, was one of seven children in Bayridge, Brooklyn. Her parents came to the United States in 1885 and eventually opened a thread factory in Manhattan. She was first violinist in the Bayridge H.S. orchestra, and won several awards in math.

She graduated from New York University and earned a J.D. degree from the NYU law school in 1927. In those days the number of women in her law school class could be counted on one hand. She was admitted to the bar in 1928, which was an accomplishment for a women in those days.

She practiced immigration law, was a social worker for New York City during the Depression years and then used her law skills in her husband’s industrial real estate firm in Brooklyn — Harris & Harris, Inc. She was president of the Eastern Star for a few years.

During World War II Julia was an air raid warden. She had one son, me, and has three grandchildren with a great-grandchild on the way. She lives in the Hillside Manor Rehabilitation and Extended Care Center on Hillside Avenue.

In 1985 Julia wrote a 112-page double-space typed book about her family and prepared a family genealogy chart. She filled in many of the facts for this column. About 60 family members from across the country recently came to her 100th birthday party at a local hotel.

Julia’s philosophy is: “You are not the person you think you are after you have lived many years. You have to settle into a community with people you can trust and who can take care of you.”

Good and Bad News of the Week

A number of people, included some public officials, were recently released from prison after serving sentences for trespassing on the Island of Vieques, Puerto Rico. While most of the trespassers were Puerto Rican, many were of other ethnic and national groups. These people were peacefully protesting the use of Vieques as a bombing range by the U.S. Navy. Peaceful civil disobedience has long been used to protest what people felt was wrong. Different people have different views about the Naval activities. Some decided to use civil disobedience. The protesters were surprised at the rough treatment they received by federal authorities and at the sentences of from 30 to 90 days imposed immediately by the government. It is interesting that the government arrested and jailed government officials. I guess the people must protest every few years to achieve the things they feel they must have.

Such is a democracy.

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