Pictured Above: 13 Centenarians celebrated their birthdays at Peconic Landing this week.

Among them are a Grumman test pilot and a civil rights activist, doctors of nuclear medicine, psychiatry and education, a survivor of the Dachau concentration camp and a Navy wife who was working the switchboard at the AT&T Long Lines building on Canal Street in New York City when the board lit up with the news of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. 

They are immigrants and native Long Islanders, all well traveled and educated with an impressive lineage of children, grandchildren and great grandchildren following them.

The 13 centenarians — some of whom had turned 100 a couple years back — beamed in front of a crowd in the community center at Peconic Landing at their Aug. 21 Birthday Bash as they freely gave away many secrets to their longevity. The most prevalent were faith and remembering to enjoy their lives.

 “At 52, I’m halfway there,” said New York State Senator Anthony Palumbo as he reached in his pocket for his readers so he could share some of the longevity secrets with the good-humored crowd who showed up to wish their friends, family and colleagues a happy birthday.

“Keep a positive attitude and always have a project going,” is Dr. Walton Shreeve’s strategy. 

Dr. Shreeve had a long career working on metabolic research using radio isotopes at Brookhaven National Laboratory, and had been the Chief of Nuclear Medicine at the VA Medical Center in Northport.

“It’s not as if I earned anything. It was going to happen,” he said of reaching into the triple digits. He’s now 102.

Dr. Shreeve, who is among five of the centenarians living independently in the continuing care retirement community, is teaching a class in nuclear medicine to his fellow Peconic Landing residents in their Lifetime Learning Speakers Bureau this fall, and is a member of the Peconic Landing Ukulele Club.

At a time when the world has lost so many people decades younger than these centenarians who had been involved with the war effort during World War II, the collective memories of that time among this extraordinary group are fresh with detail.

“I was at sea in the Pacific for nine months on a transport ship,” said Dr. Shreeve. “Then I was called back during the Korean War because there was a doctor draft… I even enjoyed the Navy. I learned a lot.”

Dr. Shreeve, who lived in Bellport while building a life revolving around his fellow researchers at BNL, spent ten years in Santa Fe, N.M. after he retired.

“It was one of my best times,” he said.

Above photos courtesy Julianne Wenczel, Peconic Landing

Katie Bach, who will turn 100 this coming January, is a mother of five and wife of a Westinghouse engineer, Han (Hank) Bach, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II. He and her three brothers and two brothers-in-law all served in the war, and they all came home.

“God was good to us,” said Ms. Bach. “I’ve always been a prayerful person.”

Ms. Bach remembered being a “little girl sitting at the switchboard at the AT&T building when every light lit up” with news of the attack on Pearl Harbor. At the time, she was living in the Bronx and commuting an hour each day to her job, which paid $16 per week. All the switchboard operators were asked that day to stay at work for a week to deal with the overloaded phone lines, sleeping on cots in the employee lounge. But when AT&T asked her to work the overnight shift, her father said no daughter of his would work overnight. She quickly found another job tracking shipments for the Seaboard Air Line Railroad, before starting her family and finding great fulfillment in motherhood.

The summer she was 35 years old, while vacationing in Noyac, her family decided to take a rainy day trip out to Shelter Island. The skies cleared as they reached the island, where they found a field filled with blueberries in the magical sunshine. As the kids began picking, Hank turned to Katie and said “how would you like to retire here?” Katie hadn’t given much thought to retirement at that point, but realized her path would likely lead back to the East End. The couple enjoyed their years on Shelter Island, playing bridge, dancing and enjoying time with their growing family, which now includes 15 grandchildren, 23 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild. 

“Shelter Island is a gorgeous place,” she said.

Hank and Katie were among the very first residents to move into Peconic Landing on Sept. 5, 2002, before the dining room even opened.

Hank was skeptical of the move, but after two weeks, he turned to his wife and said “boy, Katie, we made a great decision.”

After losing Hank in 2006, Katie dived deeper into her faith, taking a trip with a church group from St. Agnes in Greenport to Israel at the age of 86.

“Going across the sea of Galilee was fantastic. The trip was so informative,” she said.

Ms. Bach said she didn’t plan the centenarian birthday bash bust she thought it was “marvelous.”

“I didn’t think about it. It just happened,” she said of living for nearly 100 years.

When asked how she felt about being 103, Marjorie Day, a nurse, nursing professor and civil rights activist who many local people know from her time preserving historically African American neighborhoods of Sag Harbor, said “I’m not old.”

“Look at how young everyone is,” she said of the people around her who were celebrating. “They seem to be thriving, and that’s a good thing for everyone.”

In addition to Ms. Day, Dr. Shreeve and Ms. Bach, Louise Barry, Edwin Cartoski, Dr. Charlotte Grube, Betty Hansel, Doris Hock, Gertrude Hounsell, Doris Ketcham, Miriam Seidman, Sidonia Singer and Jacquelyn Rogers all celebrated their birthdays at the bash.

Ms. Day said she enjoyed helping people and getting to know families and people from different ethnic groups during her career as a nurse, and being able to travel to visit people she met throughout her career, including a trip to her mother’s home country of Guyana.

Ms. Day began visiting Sag Harbor when her two children were young, where she became involved with social justice leaders, with whom she still shares close ties, both on the North Fork and in Sag Harbor.

She said the state of civil rights in this country right now is “very discouraging,” particularly with regards to young people learning the truth about this country’s history, and having access to a quality higher education.

“At times I’m hopeful, but it doesn’t continue,” she said. “Black people moved ahead, but when we get to a certain point, you object.”

Ms. Day, who seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the party, asked a reporter to make her views on civil rights palatable to readers, then told the story of a fellow resident who started a rose garden adjacent to the community center where the birthday bash was being held. There used to be garden parties there before Covid, she said, and residents are now working to restore it to its former glory.

That kind of community engagement in the life of Peconic Landing is something of which the founders and employees of the community are proud, including Director of Health Services and Assisted Living Administrator Jennifer Drofenik, who was honored at the ceremony for recently receiving LeadingAge New York’s Thomas Clarke Memorial Award for personal integrity and professional dedication in leaders under the age of 40 in long-term care, housing, and services administration.

Patricia Lutzky, Senior Vice President of Independent Living and a founding board member of Peconic Landing, was also honored for recently receiving McKnight’s Senior Living’s 2023 Women of Distinction Hall of Honor Award.

“I started here as an intern 12 years ago, and I never left,” said Ms. Drofenik, who has been instrumental in expanding Peconic Landing’s Memory Care program during her tenure.

“We believe everyone can age successfully, and that includes people with dementia,” she said. “When I think of the life lived, among all the centenarians, they’ve lived such exciting and fulfilling lives. It’s very cool.“

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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