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Little Neck centenarian reflects on life lived in boro

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Helen Ducey, who was born in Little Neck on March 10, 1901, watched the birds in her neighbor's yard on a recent morning."They hide in my bushes to keep warm," she said. "You can see the bushes shaking."Though arthritis keeps her at home these days, Ducey still has a world at her fingertips through her vivid memories of a lifetime witnessing a city's growth.Born on Little Neck's Van Zandt Avenue more than a century ago as Helen Koscinski, the oldest of Polish immigrants Marcella and Anthony Koscinski's eight children, she remembers a time when farmland stretched as far as the eyes could see."We had cows, and it was all country here," Ducey said. She got her love of plants and nature from her father, who was a gardener.Everyday Ducey had to walk to school a mile away from her family's farmhouse. She finished her education in eighth grade at PS 94.After leaving school, Ducey went to work for a Flushing telephone company as an operator."I would walk to the station" to get to Flushing from Little Neck, she said. On days she was scheduled for day and evening shifts, Ducey would have to make the mile-long trek twice.She met a young man named William J. Ducey from Flushing when he came to her house one day selling five-cent Prudential insurance policies. "I didn't buy the policy," she said with a chuckle. But she liked the salesman enough to marry him in 1922 at her church, St. Anastasia's on Northern Boulevard.William Ducey started working as a manager for ConEdison, and the young couple moved to Flushing and lived there until 1939 before returning to Little Neck.In those years, Ducey was a full-time mother and raised her son Bill, who attended St. Michael's and St. Agnes before going on to St. John's College in Brooklyn."He had six more months to go before he was drafted to go to World War II," Ducey said. "My husband went to the draft board and asked them to take him instead of my son."The board turned down William Ducey's request, but fortunately Bill Ducey survived his two-year stint as a gunner for the Air Force.Ducey returned to work and was in charge of the teachers' cafeteria at Flushing High School. "It was wonderful" working there, she said. "It was just the teachers, no students. They were very nice, and we were friendly."William Ducey died in 1965, and Ducey never remarried. Her son died three years ago. But she has family all over the borough and "nieces and nephews all over the island," Ducey said, with a laugh. "Just look for a -Ski."And despite loving pressure from her family to move into an assisted-living facility, Ducey said she plans to stay right where she is - in the house built on her father's land and where she has lived for more than 60 years."I want to stay here. I like to live in my own house. I like to look at my backyard," she said. In her more active days, Ducey said, "I could get lost in the garden," tending to her beloved azaleas. "My father planted two dogwoods in the backyard, and they're still there," she said, nodding gently.Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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