Sylvia Goldsholl is very much in demand these days. At 108 — her birthday was in December — she survived covid-19. When she was 7, she lived through the Spanish flu. She also weathered the Great Depression, two world wars, and all the other challenges of the past century.
Not surprisingly, then, Sylvia, who lives in the Allendale Community for Senior Living, has been featured in the New York Times, the Newark Star Ledger, CNN, and a variety of other news outlets.
Nevertheless, she told me, she is not tired of reporters.
Far from it, said nurse-in-training Regan Householder, who works in medical records and sat in on our phone call. When necessary, she repeated my questions somewhat louder than they were originally posed. “She loves this,” Regan said.
That is more than evident in video clips sent to me by David Gillies, the Allendale facility’s marketing specialist. In them we see a smiling, animated woman calling out “zei gezunt” to guests at her 108th birthday party and deep in conversation with Dr. Timothy Giancarlo, president of the center.
Sylvia’s most cherished memories are of her parents, Morris and Esther Goldsholl, whom she called “mom and pop — glorious people.” She repeated often how much she loved and admired them, naming them as the source of her happiest memories. But then, as Mr. Gillies noted, Sylvia, who born in the Bronx in 1911, the eldest of four children, likes to describe herself as “my mother’s favorite.”
Sadly, her parents did not enjoy the kind of longevity Sylvia has experienced. Lamenting that they did not live longer, she said, “All humanity should live at least until 100,” adding, “I hope God is listening.”
Sylvia — whom both relatives and Allendale staff members describe as “feisty” — said it is important to speak up because “some other people don’t have that. Everyone needs warmth. It’s a wonderful thing.” She also said that “Judaism is a wonderful religion. It makes us kind and gentle. It should be scattered all over the world.” While she is not observant, she grew up in a kosher home, she added.
“Sylvia was a long-time resident of New York City, a city gal gifted with an independent spirit, a sharp wit, and a true zest for life,” Mr. Gillies said. During the facility’s quarantine period, she has missed her usual activities, especially at the hair salon. “I like getting my hair done,” she told him. “I like feeling sexy.”
In her younger years, Sylvia said, she worked as a bookkeeper, and she was active as a volunteer. “I wanted to help people who needed it,” she said, expressing unhappiness at the thought of “people being denied their privileges. We need to have a wonderful world. It can be done.”
Sylvia’s niece, Nancy Chazen of Fair Lawn, the daughter of Sylvia’s father’s brother, said that if she were asked to describe her aunt in a few words, she would pick feisty and social.
“She loves the spotlight,” Ms. Chazen said. She was only a child when Sylvia’s parents died, she said. When she was younger, she often would go with her father to visit Sylvia, but she’s seen her aunt less often since her father died. Because Sylvia tends now to focus on the past, Ms. Chazen explained that it would be difficult to set up Zoom meetings with her aged aunt. “How do you describe the internet to her?,” she asked. “She knows it exists, but she’s not part of it.”
When Ms. Chazen and her brother, Larry Goldsholl, learned of their aunt’s recent illness, they feared the worst. But two weeks later, they were told that she had recovered fully, making her among the oldest covid survivors in the world.
According to Michael Brienza, an administrator at the Allendale center, Sylvia — with her “survivor’s mentality” — was not hospitalized or put on a ventilator.
The centenarian-plus said that the secret of her vitality comes down to eating good food and paying attention to other people’s concerns. She has done a lot of that, she said. Friends have to be “earned,” and you do that by listening to them. Described by Mr. Gillies as a “big sister” to many of the Allendale residents since she first arrived there in 2010, she has obviously practiced what she preaches.
“During the covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing lock-down period — even before surviving the virus herself — Sylvia has been a living symbol of strength and resilience to her fellow Allendale Nursing Home residents and staff alike,” he said.