WWII Veteran celebrates 103rd Birthday

It’s not often you get to celebrate a milestone. Over the weekend Jack Stollak celebrated his 103rd birthday at Brandywine Living at The Savoy in Little Neck with his favorite, lox and bagels, birthday cake, and a poker game with his friends.

Stollak was born on July 9, 1919. He grew up the son of Polish immigrants, who moved into a place on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where he lived with two brothers and one sister.

He is a World War II veteran, who spent four years in the U.S. Army fighting the Axis forces in the Atlantic theater. Upon his return, Stollak received several medals honoring him for his service as a sergeant.

Stollak as a young man fighting overseas during WWII

During his time in the military, while stationed in London, he tried to locate his father’s sister, Rose Miller, at an address he had been given. But when he got there, he found the location was converted into a factory.

Stollack said he then went across the street, asking one of the neighbors if she remembered anyone who had lived there. The neighbor sent him to a Rabbi, who he said had a small congregation of people, but recalled that she had moved away. Then the Rabbi’s daughter walks in and says that she had recently seen her on the bus. From there he went to a local butcher who remembered her and said she was a customer of his. The butcher then took him to an old house, where he finally found his aunt.

“I’m your brother’s son,” he said.

While his family moved to the U.S. in the early 20th century, several members of his family moved to London while others moved to Israel.

Then in 1948, he married his wife of 73 years, Eva, and the two of them went on to settle down in a home in Maspeth. Stollack recalls that his wife had made her wedding gown out of French silk, which he had been given as a souvenir from his colonel after raiding a German silk factory.

Together they went on to have three children, Lynne, Ira, and David—who passed away at the age of 63.

Stollak is also an avid baseball fan, particularly the New York Yankees. One of his fondest memories was meeting Babe Ruth when he was a child.

“Babe used to come by the stadium in a roadster and he liked kids so he was very willing to say ‘hi’ and give autographs,” Stollack said. “I was so excited to get his autograph that I picked up a piece of paper off the ground and handed it to Babe. Babe from the side of his mouth said, ‘Get a clean piece of paper kid!’ I got a clean paper from another boy and got Babe’s autograph.”

Stollak, still living it up at 103

Jack and Eva enjoyed going on cruises. For their 50th wedding anniversary, they renewed their vows on an Alaskan cruise ship.

After they retired to Florida, his wife had missed the Big Apple so much that they moved into Brandywine Living at the Savoy in 2015.

Sadly, Jack lost the love of his life two years ago, in 2020, but he still keeps her close to his heart, adding that his 73 years of marriage was one of his greatest accomplishments.

Today, Stollak still remains active and engaged with his friends through musical entertainment and poker games. His friends say he has a great sense of humor and is always telling jokes or witty stories.

“My doctor told me I’m the healthiest 103-year-old he’s ever seen,” Jack said. “He said I was the healthiest—not the smartest!”

Wendell: Celebrating Woodhaven’s 187th birthday

Next Monday, we will celebrate this great nation’s birthday. But did you know that this week marks another birthday?

Friday July 1st is Woodhaven’s true birthday as it was on that day in 1835 that the first papers were filed and the first piece of land was purchased in the Village of Woodville, which would later be renamed as Woodhaven.

In recognition of this neighborhood’s birthday, the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society has two special presentations planned.

The first is “The Birth of Woodhaven,” a visual presentation which covers the history of the earliest days of Woodhaven. This free presentation will take place over Zoom on Tuesday, July 5th starting at 8 p.m. Email us at woodhavenhistory@gmail.com for an invite.

The second will be our first live presentation in over two years and will take place within the Sanctuary of Emanuel United Church of Christ on Sunday, July 10th. First up will be an abbreviated mass starting at 10 a.m. followed by a special presentation by the WCHS up at the altar.

Emanuel is such a lovely church it will be an honor to give a presentation there and we hope people will come out to enjoy a bit of history in these surroundings. For those of you unfamiliar with Emanuel, it is at the corner of Woodhaven Boulevard and 91st Avenue.

Emanuel United Church of Christ, at 91st Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard, where the Woodhaven Cultural & Historical Society will be hosting a special presentation in the sanctuary on Sunday July 10th at 10 a.m.

There will be a lot of interesting material to cover, starting with Emanuel’s long and interesting history which stretches across several boroughs and nearly 150 years, with the last 100+ years right here in Woodhaven.

We’ll tell you about the construction of the current church and how that related to the widening of Woodhaven Boulevard. And we’ll introduce you to the previous 2 church buildings in Woodhaven that Emanuel occupied. But we’re also going to touch on some of the interesting history in the area immediately surrounding Emanuel United.

For starters, we will take a look at St. Anthony’s Hospital, which was directly across 91st Avenue from Emanuel. Many of us remember St. Anthony’s in its declining years, before it was torn down to make way for blocks of housing and a new school (P.S. 306).

But did you know that St. Anthony’s hospital did groundbreaking work in the fight against tuberculosis, tripling our city’s ability to treat TB cases, which exploded at the end of World War 1. However, locals didn’t take kindly to the intake of all those TB patients and fought hard to shut it down.

We’ll also look at the grounds that Emanuel is currently built on as it was once part of the beautiful estate owned by Florian Grosjean, who opened the tin factory nearby on Atlantic Avenue.

We’ll also have a quick look at Atlantic Avenue and the Long Island Railroad line which ran along the surface for many years before being moved underground. At the same time, they built a bridge (technically, a viaduct) that would carry motorists over Atlantic Avenue, another huge controversy of its time.

So there’s a lot of ground to cover but it will be especially interesting talking about the history of this church, which has been such an integrated part of our neighborhood’s history.

And a big part of that was the Anniversary Day parade, which took place on the first Thursday every June and people built floats that were decorated to match each year’s parade theme.

Smaller kids rode on floats which were pulled by older volunteers or the Boy Scouts. Mothers pushed their young infants in baby carriages or strollers which were also decorated in colorful crepe paper.

So if you’re a fan of Woodhaven and want to celebrate it in style, join us at one or both of our free presentations on the 5th and the 10th of July.

And this Friday, when you see your friends in the neighborhood, don’t forget to wish them a Very Happy Woodhaven Birthday!

Elmhurst resident Helen Sokol turns 100

Born in 1922 in Nanticoke, Penn., Helen Sokol eventually moved to Queens as a young woman to spearhead her life, career, and family.
Now, Sokol celebrates 100 years of life and nearly 80 years of calling Queens home.

Her friends at AARP Elmhurst Rego Park Chapter 2889 organized a birthday celebration for her, in which representatives of local elected officials and other community members attended.

Sokol, whose family came from Slovakia, lived with relatives in Middle Village when she first moved to the city in the 1940s.

She later moved into a one bedroom apartment in Elmhurst, after she married her husband, Emil.

The Sokols had three sons: Emil, Thomas and Edward, and two grandchildren: Katie and Brian.

Edward Sokol, who owns Ace Wine & Liquor on Grand Avenue in Elmhurst, said that his mother is known for many things, but most notably, she’s known as a hard worker.

Before she had children, Sokol worked in communications for American Airlines at LaGuardia Airport. She was also heavily involved with different trade publications, including Billboard.

“Even though she only had a high school diploma at that point, she was able to work herself up and become involved with different publications,” her son, Edward said.

“She was a hard worker from the day she started, to the day that she retired,” he continued. “I could celebrate her every day.”
People also remarked upon her sense of humor and love of swing music and dance.

In celebration of this milestone, New York City Councilman Robert Holden, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, NYS Senator Joseph Addabbo, NYS Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards presented Sokol with various certificates.

As for her secret to a long, healthy life, Sokol said she made sure to always keep busy and surround herself with people who make her feel young.

“A big part of my life was taking care of my mother who had health problems, and then my husband. But I always dealt with young people,” Sokol said.

“I never heard people complain about their aches and pains and things like that, so I never knew what to expect,” she continued. “As long as you’re around young people, you’re curious. And the young people I worked with accepted me as one of their own… as long as you’re feeling young, that’s what matters.”

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