Centenarians fill Ozanam Hall

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Ozanam Hall residents (l.-r.) Barbara Palevicz, 107; Catherine Prendergast, 99; Charlie Theile, 104; Theresa Mader, 103; Despina Kaminis, 102; and Anna Kossen, 100; are several of the centenarians and those on the verge of turning 100 who live in the Bayside nursing home. Photo by Christina Santucci
Catherine Prendergast, 99, (l.) formerly a resident of Beechhurst, sits with Ozanam Hall Activities Director Marilyn Gindi and Theresa Mader, 103. Prendergast recalled the Beechhurst Beach Club and swimming from the Beechhurst pier to Fort Totten in her youth. Photo by Christina Santucci
Barbara Palevicz, 107, is one of eighteen residents of Ozanam Hall over 100 years old. Palevicz, who is originally from Bavaria, Germany, credits her longevity to being a good neighbor and hard work when she was younger on a farm. Photo by Christina Santucci

At Ozanam Hall in Bayside, there is a select group of people who have earned their way into one of the nursing home’s more exclusive clubs. While the average age of the more than 400 residents hovers somewhere around a spry 90, Ozanam is home to 18 people 100 or older, and that number looks like it is only going to get bigger.

“We have a lot of 99s,” said Gertrude Seraceno, assistant director of activities.

The 100-plusers occupy their time in much the same ways that the younger tenants do, whether it be taking care of one of the number of cats that lay claim to each floor or participating in therapy activities.

It is just that when they get around to tell stories, theirs go a little further back.

Theresa Mader, 103, said she used to love to play baseball. Back in her youth, she said, she picked her fair share of fights on the field with the boys, but these days she finds ping-pong to be a more age-appropriate activity

Barbara Palevicz made her way to Queens from Bavaria, Germany, via Kansas. At 107, she said she spent her entire life being a good neighbor and a good Christian. The nursing home has its own Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Activities Director Marilyn Gindi said Ozanam has only two male residents age 100 or over because women tend to outlive men.

Charlie Thiele, 104, said he built his Kew Garden Hills home 88 years ago and kept running his own construction company until he fell off a ladder when he was 99. For his 95th birthday, he took a transcontinental train ride from Quebec to British Columbia, taking in the breathtaking scenery of the Canadian Rockies.

“It was a very beautiful ride,” said Thiele, who added he was not sure what he would do to celebrate his 105th birthday. “It’s going to be good.”

At 99, Catherine Prendergast is just on the verge of joining the club, and she said she would like to see Ozanam form a men’s glee club, because she was such a fan of the Bayside Glee Club.

“[The annual concert] was always the most popular social event of the year,” she said.

Prendergast, who takes no small amount of pride in pointing out the Scotch-Irish roots of her surname, said her mother, Katherine Walsh, was a professional singer.

“I had a much simpler maiden name,” she said before she broke out to softly hum a quiet tune.

Prendergast’s father encouraged her to apply for a position at one of Arthur Murray’s dance studios, and for many years she taught the tango, the rumba and the Viennese waltz, along with her two favorite dances, the waltz and the foxtrot.

Gindi said family structures are changing, and many people who might have lived with family members years ago are now living in nursing homes.

“I remember when my grandparents lived with us,” she said.

She credits advances in technology and medicine for longer life spans, and said the residents who hit the century mark all lived healthy lives and avoided smoking and drinking, although she did admit a few of them got a little rowdy with the toasts at a luncheon last month for the centenarians.

“I would like to be as active as some of them when I’m over 100,” she said.

Reach reporter Rich Bockmann by e-mail at or by phone at 718-260-4574.

Updated 2:59 pm, September 29, 2011
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