TORONTO — When wishing someone a happy birthday, it’s a Jewish custom to add, “Until 120.”
Rose Lefko, left, is well on her way to achieving that remarkable milestone.
On March 19, Lefko turned 100 years old.
Lefko was born in Toronto in 1908, six years before World War I and 10 years before Canadian women had the same voting rights as men.
She has lived in Toronto all of her life, and has outlived three husbands.
“I’ve had three marriages. My first marriage, I had two lovely children, and God unfortunately took my daughter at the age of 60. I still have my son, and I have a wonderful daughter-in-law, Helen. And I have wonderful grandchildren, and now I have wonderful great-grandchildren.”
Lefko has five grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren, aged eight to 21 years old.
“My Grandma Rose to this day never ceases to amaze me,” said Tammy Daiter, her granddaughter. “Not only is she extremely active and still lives on her own, she also runs around by herself by TTC and walking without walkers or canes.”
Her day starts the same way each morning. Lefko, who grew up in the Bloor Street and Lansdowne Avenue area, meets with her son, David Gould, for breakfast. She also likes to go for walks as often as she can.
She now resides in the Bathurst Street and Steeles Avenue area, but trekking downtown for long walks is something that has been an important part of her life for 50 years.
“Years ago I was in the hospital for 10 weeks,” she said, explaining that she’d suffered a minor heart attack when she was 50.
“When I got out of the hospital, I did nothing but walk. Until this winter, I’ve gone walking, mostly downtown… I take the bus to Bloor and Yonge. I walk from Bloor and Yonge, I walk down to Dundas Square, and then I go down to Queen Street, and I take in the stores of course, and… I go home tired,” Lefko said.
In the summer, Daiter often accompanies her grandmother on her walks.
“I don’t drive a car, I just drive everyone else crazy,” Lefko said, showing that her sense of humour is still intact.
Although Lefko still has her sense of humour, she says her memory isn’t as sharp.
“There are a lot of things I can’t remember, being 100 years old, but you know, when I remember mostly is when I lie in bed and I start thinking and I start going back and it’s wonderful.”
She was able to reminisce about the different jobs she held in Toronto.
“I used to work in a hair dressing salon,” she said.
“I took the money,” she added with a laugh.
The salon was originally owned by her first husband, but was later run by her son.
Her second husband was a partner at the United Bakers restaurant when it was located on Spadina Avenue, before it moved to its current location at Lawrence Avenue and Bathurst Street.
“That was a lovely job I had. A good number of years ago, people would stop me and say, ‘Oh you’re the one that used to take our money!’ That’s the way I’ve been known a lot in Toronto.”
As much as she has enjoyed working and shmoozing with her fellow Torontonians, Lefko said she has also loved to give in to her two vices: shopping and gambling.
“I really and truly have always loved going shopping, to see the stores,” she said.
Daiter said that when her grandmother goes shopping, she always knows the bargains.
“You don’t get to 100 by spending all your money at one time,” Lefko said.
“I used to get those bargains if it was possible. Even if it took me all day to get there, that is where I went. As long as I got the bargain.”
She said her other weakness was betting on the horses at the track.
“I went with my son-in-law and I always had a good time. My daughter didn’t like the races, but… Tammy also loved the races, like her dad, and we had a wonderful time when we were there.”
To celebrate Lefko’s 100 years, her family held a big birthday party in her honour on March 30, where they gave her a cake and flowers, and made a special presentation.
Although hitting the century mark is a special milestone, Lefko’s family makes sure that each of her birthdays are celebrated in style.
“Last year, she celebrated her 99th birthday by going on a cruise for the first time with her son’s family,” Daiter said.
“She had never been on a cruise before, because she was scared. She was around for the Titanic, so she was a little scared… But she got off at every stop.”
Speaking a couple of weeks before the party, Lefko said she was looking forward to the celebration, but that she is most thankful for having such a tight-knit family.
“I’ve always had a great relationship with all the children. I’ve never seen a family any better than this one,” Lefko said.
“I’m not lacking in friends and family, and it’s wonderful.”