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‘Adventurous’ Avenue Y Senior Marks 107th Year

When Millie Levy came to the United States from London during World War I, she didn’t do it because she had to – she did it because she wanted to, for the adventure. Now known as Millie Lubin, she turned 107 years old Dec. 24, and has only recently begun to slow down from a life of doing exactly what she wanted. According to Christopher Miller, the director of Public Affairs at the NYC Department for the Aging, Millie could very well be Brooklyn’s oldest person. But he said that verifying that could prove next to impossible, since no city department is responsible for compiling such information. Additionally, Millie, like many of Brooklyn’s elderly, is foreign-born – which would make searches in New York City health records just about useless. The Millie her family recalls is from literally a lifetime ago – she was born in 1898, and hit middle age at the beginning of the Cold War. She doesn’t speak much anymore, and her children talk about her in the past tense. “Whatever she wanted, she got. My younger brother called my mother ‘relentless,’” said Lillyan Kirschener, 70, Millie’s daughter, referring to her brother Lenny. “That’s my word for her.” “She worked three days in her life,” for Eagle Pencil Co., said her other son, Robert Lubin. “She never got paid. She didn’t like it, so she up and left.” Robert, 79, is the eldest of Millie’s three children and lives with his wife Sydelle, 76, in the same building as his mother. Asked to describe Millie in a word, Robert, with a wry smile, says, “She was a broad.” Sydelle shakes her head, exasperated. “She was an adventurous woman,” she says. “She did everything she wanted to do.” This was the kind of woman who smoked until she was 80, ate whatever she wanted, and refused two pacemakers – one back in the 1980s, while she was vacationing in Florida. Millie called Kirschener, and told her that if she didn’t come down to Florida that day, she might not see her mother alive again. So Lillyan flew down immediately – but when she got there, Millie had changed her tune. “‘Her answer to the doctors was, ‘I came into the world with this ticker, you’re not rearranging my ticker,” Lillyan said. Millie refused the other pacemaker within the past few months. “And she’s still alive,” Kirschener said. With healthy eating and clear lungs out of the picture, Millie’s children attribute her height in years to her aloof outlook on life. “She didn’t stress that much,” Sydelle said. “She was very blunt. If she wanted to say something to you, she did, and she didn’t care about hurt feelings. I don’t think anything was that important to her, besides her family.” And as a family woman, Millie excelled. She took care of her three children while Frank, her husband, worked in the newspaper delivery business. In the family’s Avenue Y row house, Millie would easily host dinner for almost 20 on many occasions. “She was the chief hostess,” Lillyan said. Although Millie immigrated during World War I, decades later she was opening their home to English émigrés as soon as they entered the country. “Growing up, Mom’s house was the ‘immigration department.’ Mom was the welcome committee. Anyone who was coming into America from England, they’d stop at Frankie and Millie Lubin’s,” Lillyan said. “Dad… made a decent middle-class living, so mom could see that they got a solid welcome into America. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh, who’s going to be here tomorrow?’” As a child herself, Millie was one of nine children born to Russian émigrés in London. Her father was a furrier, Robert said, who “would go out to Europe, sell his furs, come back to England, make a baby, and go out and sell again.” They lived comfortably. Nevertheless, Millie left England to start a life in the U.S. She lived in the Bronx during her first years in New York, but in 1935 relocated to Brooklyn, moving to 1812 Avenue Y. “Opposite [P.S.] 254,” Robert said. Robert moved out of the Avenue Y house when he was a teenager, and the others eventually left too. But Millie stayed there until 1983, when Frank died. She then moved to her current residence on Ocean Avenue, where Robert lives a few floors below. Throughout Millie’s life, her greatest passion was socializing. She was well-liked, and would always be playing cards with “all the ladies from the neighborhood.” Sometimes she would go to them, but more frequently she’d have her friends come over to play. “Sometimes, I’d sleep on a pile of coats,” Robert said, “because everybody would still be there playing cards, and my bed was where the coats went.” Millie also knit and crocheted, her children said, and was a talent at it. “I have a knit bronze-colored beaded bag, it was a work of art,” Lillyan said. “She gave it to me when it was the stylish item.” Aside from playing cards and her handicraft, Millie loved to travel and take vacations. “She was social and busy with friends, running around with dad, driving here, driving there,” Lillyan said. “She did the stereotypical Jewish vacation thing, with the hotels, bungalow colonies upstate, renting in Florida.” And although she was a socialite, Millie was no elitist. “She was not one to stick up for a political cause or anything like that, and she wasn’t one to care about diamonds and jewels. She just wanted a good wholesome middle-class life with family and friends,” Sydelle said. And throughout that life, she has always spoken her mind. During an interview this week, Millie was tired, and let a home care attendant know in no uncertain terms that she wanted to go upstairs to sleep. “Upstairs,” she said. “Just a minute, Millie, then we’ll go upstairs,” the attendant replied. Millie looked sour. “You’ll be sorry,” she replied, to the laughter of everyone in the room. “She still has plenty to say,” Sydelle said. “I don’t know if you’d call it mischief. We like to kid around. Life has lots of bad things in it. You might as well be able to laugh and cry at the same time.”

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