If you think that reaching the age of 94 means slowing down, clearly you haven’t met Peggy Saslow of New Milford.
A past sisterhood president of the town’s Beth Tikvah-New Milford Jewish Center — “so many years ago that I don’t remember when” — Ms. Saslow now belongs to the JCC of Paramus/Congregation Beth Tikvah, which her congregation joined in 2013.
“I’m active in the synagogue, and in Hadassah,” Ms. Saslow said. “I go to all the meetings.” But her main passion now, in addition to tennis (more about that below) is working to support a program at New Milford High School that sends students on a 10-day trip to Germany, the Czech Republic, and Poland to study the Holocaust.
“They visit the death camp and survivors,” Ms. Saslow said. “And they have all kinds of educational experiences. They have actually discovered villages that hid Jews, and formed a relationship with them.” The program, which has been running for more than 10 years, has been recognized by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. “We had the board of the museum come here,” she said.
The New Milford school also has “formed a relationship with a school in Israel, and the principal came here to meet our kids.” The founder of the high school program, Colleen Tambuscio, is a teacher, Ms. Saslow said. Not only does Ms. Tambuscio “work like a son of a gun” to keep it running, but “the kids love her.”
This year’s returning students gave a presentation to program donors on June 19. “They come back and they are our ambassadors,” Ms. Saslow said. “They go out and speak to local synagogues.”
The word “retired” does not seem to fit Ms. Saslow. Although technically she retired from teaching in 1994, her involvement in education extended way beyond that. When she began working at New Milford High School — a commitment that lasted some 30 years — she taught only 8th grade home economics. Her qualifications for that job included a degree in nutrition and diet therapy from Simmons College in Boston.
But later she went back to school to get education credits at Columbia University, Montclair State, and New York University. (Somewhere in between, she and her late husband, Sidney — whom Ms. Saslow described as a ganzer macher in their synagogue — managed to raise three children.) With more than enough credits to qualify for a certificate in science, she gave the subject a go when the school was short a science teacher. “I loved it,” she said, and from then on taught both science and home economics.
After retiring, she spent a semester back at Simmons College, this time as an instructor, teaching Nutrition 101 to fill in for a professor on sabbatical. Still passionately interested in education, she later agreed to serve on her town’s board of education. That position, which she held until she was 90, lasted for 20 years.
Today, Ms. Saslow sits on the boards of the town’s Friends of the Library and its Senior Center. She is co-president of the Simmons Club of Northern N.J. and still is on its alumni executive board. She also has been teaching an AARP driver safety course for the past 20 years.
And now to tennis.
Ms. Saslow said she has played the game since she was a youngster. When she got married in the early 1950s, she had no place to play. “I’d be teaching at New Milford High School and looking out the window,” she said. “There were kids going out on the tennis court with their coach. I asked him if I could come and get brush-up instructions from him. I got lessons and played with the students, some from my own class. It brought us even closer.”
Today, she plays with Tennis for Life, started in 1998 by the late Marcia Devens, who then was a 13-year breast cancer survivor. Sponsored by the Hackensack University Medical Center Foundation, the program offers breast cancer survivors free weekly indoor professional tennis instruction at courts in Ridgewood and in Rockland County. According to Ms. Saslow, who has been with the group since its beginning, it also offers monthly guest speakers on health-related topics, and it runs weekly support group meetings. It is funded solely through donations, grants, and fundraising events that are organized by its members.
Whether tennis has kept Ms. Saslow healthy and vibrant is open to question. But in 1991, when she first was diagnosed with breast cancer, she was told by her doctor that she had only three to five years to live. Yet she now lives a happy and independent life, driving up and down the east coast to visit family and friends. At least one of her fellow tennis players, Linda Gould of Paramus, has described Ms. Saslow as “inspirational.”
Describing the beginnings of the Tennis for Life group, Ms. Saslow said that “our coaches initially were people who played tennis well and wanted to be involved. Now we’re a large group — a big deal.” While not everyone comes every week, the group now has more than 100 members.
Although she is 94, “it wouldn’t occur to me to stop playing,” Ms. Saslow said. While she has been sidelined recently due to a bad fall, “I love the game, and I have developed admiration, love, and caring for all the women who pass through my life because of Tennis for Life. We’ve developed a strong bond.” The program is free, and open to people who never have played tennis. “We have a wonderful time,” she said. “We don’t just go and play games and try to win. It’s a different kind of exercise, with fun attached.”
Ms. Saslow paid tribute to Hackensack Hospital, “which handles our finances and collects our money. We have a wonderful relationship.” She credited Scott Devens, Marcia Devens’ husband, with bringing the hospital on board.
Asked if she had any wisdom to pass down, Ms. Saslow said that she benefited from “finding something to do with my life that I loved so much that I could never think of it as just a job. Teaching and interacting with children was my passion. I know how fortunate I was to get paid for doing something that I loved to do.”
Also important to her has been the realization that “life has many ends, but with each end is a new beginning.
“If you care about the world and other people, and you get yourself involved with other people and develop the understanding that we’re not all the same but can bring each other friendship and help, your life will be enriched,” Ms. Saslow said.