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Centenarians reflect on lives worth living

February 21, 2012


NORTH KINGSTOWN – One hundred and eight years ago, the first underground line of the New York City subway opened. One hundred and five years ago, Houdini escaped from chains underwater in 57 seconds. One hundred and three years ago, the average price of a house was $4,500. One hundred and one years ago, gas cost 3.2 cents a gallon and, 100 years ago, China became a republic.
Why are these facts important?
Because the aforementioned “years ago” are the ages of five female residents at Scalabrini Villa Health Care Center in North Kingstown who were honored last Thursday during a centenarians luncheon.
Katherine Coughlin, the oldest at 108-years-old, came to Scalabrini in 2007. She grew up in Providence before moving to Cranston after getting married. She had three siblings and two children who are all deceased. For 39 years, she worked at a local jewelry company as a final examiner, where she would be the last person to review pieces before they went on the sales floor.
When asked if she got free jewelry, she responded with a chuckle.
“Never,” she said.
Coughlin felt there’s no secret to living a long life, that all you can do is just keep doing what you’re doing. But she did caution it’s better if you “don’t smoke or drink.”
During World War I, she knitted wristlets, otherwise known as gloves, for the soldiers.
“It was the least I could do for them,” Coughlin said. “I was in my warm house and they weren’t. I liked to knit so it was the perfect thing to do.”
As a young woman, Coughlin was never the party girl and just enjoyed spending time with her girlfriends playing hopscotch, listening to music and going to the movies. Now, with limited mobility, Coughlin enjoys sitting in her “comfy” chair watching the Boston Red Sox, Price is Right and bowling. As for football, she said doesn’t understand the game.
“I used to play bingo with five of my friends, but fell asleep because it was too boring,” she laughed. According to her nurse Anna, Coughlin never forgets a birthday and makes sure everyone has a card to open on their special day.
Rose Pastille, 105, has been at Scalabrini since 2009 and grew up in Cranston. She has seven siblings and two daughters. Pastille said she didn’t shy away from a hard day’s work. She worked as a saleswoman in a dress shop and used to do piecework in a jewelry shop. She and her husband opened up the Green Acres Pharmacy on Pontiac Avenue in Cranston where she was in charge of the front store.
According to her daughter, Pamela, who was on hand for the celebratory luncheon, her parents moved an existing house across Pontiac Avenue so they could build the pharmacy. Rose and her husband ultimately lived in that house.
Last week didn’t start out too great for Rose, who had to start wearing a pair of glasses for the first time in her life.
She wasn’t happy about it.
“Apparently, my eyes aren’t doing all the work they need to do,” she said. “But, let me tell you, these things are annoying. But I love doing puzzles, so if they help me see a little bit better, I guess I’ll have to live with them.”
Pastille loves listening to Lawrence Welk, Perry Como, Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra and, asked “Where are all the good singers?”
“Dead.” she answered.
As a child, Castille explained that you did everything your parents asked you to do. You didn’t talk to boys and didn’t go out at night. She loved playing jacks with her girlfriends and as she got older, went antiquing once a week.
“When I was younger, I can remember barely finding a place to sit in the car because of all the antiques my mom would buy,” Pamela laughed.
Like her other two cohorts, Catherine Boudreau, 101, worked in a jewelry shop doing “a little bit of everything”. When asked what’s the secret to living such a long life, Boudreau said the key is not to think about your age at all.
“It creeps up on you,” she explained. “I didn’t feel old until I was in my 80s.”
Catherine took care of her grandchildren while her daughter attended nursing school. She has six siblings and one daughter. Because she lived in the Mount Pleasant area of Providence, she loved going for walks with her girlfriends and playing tennis at Roger Williams Park and even attempted to learn ballroom dancing.
Boudreau is an avid viewer of both local and world-wide news and acknowledged that today’s world is not as nice as the world she grew up in.
“I fear for the children today because of all the bad things going on in this world and what they’re exposed to.”
She grew up during The Depression, where no one did anything because they couldn’t afford to. Entertainment consisted of listening to the radio and TV.
The reason Ruth McCaffrey says she has lived to be 103, meanwhile, is because of the positive attitude and strong will she got from her mother.
“My mother was a hard worker and did everything for myself and my baby sister,” said Ruth. Baby sister Claire, 102, was there to celebrate her big sister’s special day.
McCaffrey came to Scalabrini in 2007. She grew up in the Edgewood section of Cranston. She never married and worked in an office as a secretary. Her favorite past time was dancing at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet. She also loved ice skating and roller skating.
The youngest of the five is Virginia Dibiase, 100, who has only been at Scalabrini for a year. She was born in Italy and grew up in Providence. She has two siblings and three children. She worked as a seamstress on ladies’ leather handbags in a small family-run factory.
She loved dancing, playing golf, swimming at the YMCA and won several medals for swimming and diving in her 90’s.
Though the women all came from different backgrounds, there was one thing they could all agree on:
So far, it’s been a life worth living.

Southern Rhode Island Newspapers
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