Catholic Free Press

Catholic Free Press Digital Edition

  • Jan
  • 9

101 years of life!

Posted By January 9, 2015 | 6:16 pm | Lead Story #2
Photo courtesy of Sister Dorothy Scesny
Gladys Donlin (Hill) Babon receives a key to the city from Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty for her 101st birthday on Christmas Eve. In the background is Father Miguel Pagán, who celebrated Christmas Eve Mass at St. Mary Health Care Center, where she lives. He is in residence at St. Paul Cathedral, the health care center’s parish.
Photo courtesy of Sister Dorothy Scesny Gladys Donlin (Hill) Babon receives a key to the city from Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty for her 101st birthday on Christmas Eve. In the background is Father Miguel Pagán, who celebrated Christmas Eve Mass at St. Mary Health Care Center, where she lives. He is in residence at St. Paul Cathedral, the health care center’s parish.

By Tanya Connor

WORCESTER – She celebrated her birthday with Jesus – more than once. But when you pass 100, you have reason to celebrate. And Gladys Donlin (Hill) Babon has been celebrating – all her life, it seems.
Now she reminisces with delight about the past: enjoying simple childhood pleasures, falling in love, celebrating her 101st birthday. And she keeps embracing life, this week at an Epiphany party at St. Mary Health Care Center, where she lives.
“I hope at your age I have your attitude,” Sister Dorothy Scesny told her during a Catholic Free Press interview last week. (A Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Sister Dorothy is director of mission integration and pastoral care at St. Mary’s.)
“Well, what are you going to do about it?” shot back the centenarian, adding that you’ve got to enjoy what you’ve got. Later she said, “You’ve got to take love and laughter when it’s around, and you do share the pain of people.”
Mrs. Babon has her own stories of love and pain, and she’s still eliciting laughter and celebration.
“You go on living – 90, 91 … 95 …” she said, when asked for her advice about longevity, or life in general. “It’s nothing. And all of a sudden you become 99. You know you’re going to become 100. And that’s when it hits you. … And then it came that I was going to be 101.”
Her party was held on her birthday – Christmas Eve.
“We told her we were going to celebrate her birthday during Mass,” Sister Dorothy said. “Gladys put the Baby Jesus in the manger.”
After Mass her two sons and other family members and friends shared a cake which said, “Happy Birthday Jesus & Gladys.” Worcester Mayor Joseph Petty gave her a key to the city.
Sister Dorothy said Mrs. Babon looked at her cake and said, “101! Imagine!”
“That was such a nice party,” the centenarian reminisced. “To think I walked into that! … I had no idea I was that popular!”
She said her sister in Florida, now in her 90s, sent the clothes she wore and called with birthday greetings.
At an Epiphany party Tuesday she was again given birthday wishes. And more.
Sister Dorothy talked about the three kings, who, if they were wise women, “would’ve brought a casserole, diapers and … cleaned the stable.” She gave residents stars which said, “The wise still seek him.” She blessed them and asked them to think about what gifts they would give Jesus.
“That was lovely,” Mrs. Babon piped up, after Sister Dorothy played part of a Christmas music recording.
Then it was time for “king cake.”
Sister Dorothy had residents look on the bottom of the plates that held their cupcakes. Four plates (representing Jesus and the three kings) were specially marked. The people with those plates each got a dollar as a prize.
Sister Ellen Henighan, a Sister of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, gave hers to her fellow resident who just turned 101.
“A whole dollar bill for my birthday!” responded Mrs. Babon. “And it’s real too.”
She loves winning money. But that’s getting ahead of the story.
When asked last week where she was born, she said she’d forgotten.
“I was born,” she said simply, humorously. “I was born here.” (Sister Dorothy confirmed that Mrs. Babon was born in Worcester.)
The elder was more interested in recounting memories of childhood summers at her grandparents’ farm on Dead Horse Hill in Leicester.
“My cousin would come from Boston and would join me,” she said. “I loved it!” Barefoot – and glad of it – they would take the cows to and from the pasture.
Asked what kind of cows they were, Mrs. Babon replied, “Beautiful cows. They were just cows.”
Another pleasure was riding her bachelor uncle’s “Ford with a back on it” as he drove over puddles. He’d hit all the wet spots, she said, and demonstrated how she and her cousin would stretch out their feet to get splashed.
“Our legs would be all dirty, of course,” she said.
There was fun to be had during the academic year too. Sometimes.
“I loved Greendale school,” she recalled. “I used to ring the bell when it was recess: ‘Ding-a-ling-a-ling.’”
To pay for bus tickets to Commerce High School, Mrs. Babon said, she worked at F.W. Woolworth store on Front Street. She worked from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Saturdays – for $2 and her meals.
But life wasn’t all work, then or later.
“We used to go dancing,” Mrs. Babon recalled. “White City. And the big bands used to come in. And that’s where I met my husband,” Edward D. Babon.
Did she go on to college?
“There wasn’t the money,” she replied. “And I’d fallen in love too, you know.”
Her brother Fred was a great golfer, her sister Frances was a registered nurse, “and I was next and I got married,” she said.
At 19, she eloped to New York, where her sister and her sister’s boyfriend “stood up” for them and her sister got them a hotel room.
“My mother had seven kids; there was a big family,” Mrs. Babon reasoned. “She got rid of me. … Those were hard days; there was no work. … I was madly in love. … He was a wonderful guy. … We got married and then we came home and told our mothers.”
She didn’t attend church as a child, she said. Her father’s parents had come from England, and he wasn’t Catholic. Her mother was an Irish Catholic.
Later she and her husband, a Lithuanian Catholic, got their marriage blessed, and one of her cousins had a party for them, she said. She and her husband joined Our Lady of the Rosary Parish, near their home, and brought their children up Catholic.
Now Mrs. Babon regularly joins in the daily Communion services and praying of the rosary, and the weekly Masses at St. Mary’s, Sister Dorothy said. “And then she comes to Bingo.”
“Oh, I love Bingo,” responded Mrs. Babon.
“I enjoy getting together for those meetings – for the Church,” the centenarian explained. “I love to gamble. … When my kids were small that’s all we did for New Year’s. While we’re playing cards we’d …” (Here she moved her hand to her mouth, demonstrating how they’d have a drink.)
This scene was repeated during the year. Mrs. Babon claimed she was a good card player.
Did she win?
“Oh, of course I won,” she replied. “I also lost too. But I loved it. A little cocktail we had. Saturday night was a nice night for a couple of drinks and a card game.” Before their children were born they’d play all night, have breakfast at a restaurant and return to her house and play much of the day, she said.
At one point Sister Dorothy told her, “You’ve had a blessed life.”
“Yes,” responded Mrs. Babon. “Except he (her husband) died too young (in his 50s or 60s).”
“Or,” Sister Dorothy teased, “you lived too old.”