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Queens Chronicle

Chapin’s sesquicentennial to remember

Jamaica home for the elderly celebrates its 150th anniversary in style

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Posted: Thursday, June 6, 2019 10:30 am | Updated: 12:34 pm, Thu Jun 13, 2019.

America’s wounds from the Civil War were still fresh in 1869 when Mrs. Edwin Chapin, the wife of a prominent Manhattan minister, was joined by 20 friends to create a place where elderly people of modest means could live out their lives fully.

The Chapin Home for the Aging left its Midtown Manhattan brownstone behind for Queens in 1910, and the mission now includes skilled nursing and adult daycare; but residents, staff and families on May 31 turned out for a 150th birthday party for the Jamaica institution that can boast that it has been serving the city’s elderly for all or part of three different centuries.

“It is an honor and a duty to uphold that tradition,” said Jennifer McManaman, executive vice president and administrator in her welcoming remarks to residents, their family members and staff.

“Any birthday is good, but a 150th birthday is special,” said Janet Under, a member of the home’s board of directors. “Every day we have been giving these services. We are very proud of that.”

The ceremony this year was combined with Chapin’s annual induction to its Century Club, honoring residents who have turned 100 or are 99 and have reached their 100th year.

Per usual there was a massive birthday cake ready to be served up.

This year’s Century Club honorees included Lucinda Mary Powell, 105, who is a native of the other Jamaica with ocean breezes and 80-degree temperatures; Ulyses Jackson, 103, who served in Germany with the U.S. Army and is a jazz aficionado; Lillie Bivins, 103, a North Carolina native who has been at Chapin since 2009; Marie DeVito, 101, a retired dressmaker from Brooklyn who still enjoys dancing; Anna Bobbio, 101, who lived most of her life in Astoria and worked for the Post Office; Leah Olynciw, 101, a graduate of Hunter College in Manhattan who worked as a teacher and librarian; and Aleaze Hoahing, 100, a native of Baltimore who is a major Frank Sinatra fan.

Also honored were 99-year-old residents who have reached their 100th year, including Frances Cottone, a Bronx native and mother of five daughters who served in the Marine Corps; Frances Hornberger, one of a set of triplets born in Brooklyn in 1920 who became a mother of five and earned a master’s degree in library sciences; and Grace Florio. The former waitress and secretary has one son, and was a dancer who was a regular attendee of Manhattan’s famed Roseland Ballroom.

All received gifts from Chapin and proclamations from U.S. Rep. Grace Meng (D-Flushing) and state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-St. Albans).

Deacon Mickey Cutter gave the official invocation. Entertainment included jazz singer Hilary Gardner and guitarist Greg Ruggiero.

Pamela Bruce played the harp, including some selections from Elvis Presley and The Beatles. Matthew Bellas performed the national anthem.

And Kevin Daurnheim, the official videographer for Chapin, showed a video depicting the home’s history.

The same year the home’s organizers became incorporated by the state, Thomas Edison secured his first patent, this one for a vote-counting machine. Mahatma Ghandi, who would lead a nonviolent movement instrumental in the independence of India, was born that same year.

The original building, which opened on 66th and 67th streets between Lexington and Third avenues, was five stories tall and had 67 rooms. But by 1910 it was consigning too many people to waiting lists due to a lack of space.

According to Chapin’s official history, a site in Jamaica “easily accessible by train or trolley” was secured “where old people could enjoy healthful open-air exercises and occupations without incurring the dangers attending them on the crowded streets of New York City.”

But by 1962, even the new site was inadequate, and the Chapin Home for the Aged and Infirm became the Chapin Home for the Aging on its present site at 165-01 Chapin Pkwy. in 1964.

A massive extension and renovation project from 1991 to 1993 expanded the facility to its existing size and footprint.

Resident Council President George Stack summed up his own feelings.

“It’s not an institution,” he said. “It’s a place where families live.”

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