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Published: 11/23/2009

Vivacious centenarian knew hardship as a child

BY KIRK BAIRD
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Clara Weinblatt becomes emotional as her son, Chuck, left, and residents of Kingston Care Center of Sylvania sing 'Happy Birthday' to celebrate her 100th. She and her late husband, Dr. Morris Weinblatt, moved to Toledo 60 years ago. Clara Weinblatt becomes emotional as her son, Chuck, left, and residents of Kingston Care Center of Sylvania sing 'Happy Birthday' to celebrate her 100th. She and her late husband, Dr. Morris Weinblatt, moved to Toledo 60 years ago.
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Cardiologist Tom Pappas greets his patient Clara
Weinblatt at the celebration. ‘It's rare to meet someone
so beautiful and alive,' the doctor said. Cardiologist Tom Pappas greets his patient Clara Weinblatt at the celebration. ‘It's rare to meet someone so beautiful and alive,' the doctor said.
THE BLADE/LORI KING Enlarge | Buy This Photo

Clara Weinblatt has lived through two world wars and the Great Depression.

She's seen men walk on the moon and terrorists topple the Twin Towers in New York. Radio, TV, microwave ovens, computers, cell phones, the Internet - now everyday fixtures - were nonexistent through much of hers.

Mrs. Weinblatt celebrated her 100th birthday Sunday afternoon at the Kingston Residence in Sylvania where she lives, surrounded by family and friends.

Reflecting on her life, Mrs. Weinblatt's memory took her back 93 years, during her family's emigration from the small town of Kovel, Russia, to the United States.

Her father had left Clara and her mother and sisters to find work in Columbus. Clara hadn't turned 1 when he left.

Six years later, Clara and her mother and sisters were on a train bound for Liverpool, England, to catch a ship to the United States to join him in the New World.

They almost didn't make it.

After the Germans bombed their train - it was the height of World War I - young Clara became separated from her mother and sisters. An Austrian soldier took pity on the lost, shell-shocked 7-year-old girl and escorted her back to Kovel to live with an aunt.

It took nearly a year for Clara to be reunited in Liverpool with her family, whom she hardly recognized because a dearth of food and clothes had taken physical tolls on her mother and sisters.

"They were like skeletons," she said. "They had nothing."

Mrs. Weinblatt still has the occasional nightmare about the attack on the train and being separated from her family.

"She doesn't talk about it much," said her son, Chuck Weinblatt, 56, of Sylvania, "but a piece of it has always been with her."

But Mrs. Weinblatt's painful childhood had a happy ending in Columbus, where she, her mother, and her sisters were reunited with her father.

It was there, and later in Toledo, where she carved out quite a life.

Mrs. Weinblatt took a job as a proofreader at the Columbus Dispatch - a job from which she would be fired for taking a day off to observe a Jewish holiday.

For her first date with her future husband, Dr. Morris Weinblatt, she managed to secure tickets to an Ohio State-Michigan football game in Columbus.

Mrs. Weinblatt, who attended Ohio State University for a year, was a Buckeye; Dr. Weinblatt, a former University of Michigan football player, was a Wolverine. It was love at first sight for the collegiate rivals, and three dates later, the two were engaged, after Dr. Weinblatt asked her if she wouldn't mind washing his shirts and socks with her laundry - an awkward but effective marriage proposal.

"They were just a perfect match," said Chuck Weinblatt, who was born two years after his parents married in 1949. "They were exceedingly devoted to each other. I rarely heard either of them raise their voice."

The couple moved to Toledo 60 years ago, where Dr. Weinblatt was one of the city's first psychiatrists.

He died in 1979, and her thoughts drifted to him on her birthday celebration.

"I only wish he was still alive right now," she said. "But there's nothing I can do. I do miss him."

At 100, Mrs. Weinblatt keeps busy playing games on her computer, reading, and helping other residents at the Kingston Care Center as the assisted living facility's "goodwill greeter."

She calls her son several times a day and takes an active interest in her granddaughter Lauren's upcoming wedding and her grandson Brian's graduation with a doctoral degree in higher-education administration from the University of Toledo.

She never learned to drive - which may have played a part in her reaching the 100-year milestone.

"She walked everywhere," Mr. Weinblatt said. "I'm sure that helped in her longevity."

Good genetics may have played a role, too: there is no history of heart disease, cancer, or diabetes in Mrs. Weinblatt's family.

Her mother lived to be 97 and her sisters well into their 80s; her younger sister made it to 96.

"I guess she comes from the right side of Russia," the son said.

Even a dangerously low heart rate three years ago, which resulted in the installation of a pacemaker, failed to slow her down or dampen her spirit.

"The way she is now, I expect her to live forever," said Mrs. Weinblatt's cardiologist, Dr. Tom Pappas, who stopped by to give his patient a birthday hug. "It's rare to meet someone so beautiful and alive."

To pass along the wisdom of a life well lived, Mrs. Weinblatt used the story of an elderly man she visited and took care of as part of the Meals on Wheels program decades ago.

The man once asked Mrs. Weinblatt about her heritage, and grew indignant when he learned she is Jewish.

"He said to me, 'Hitler should have killed you, too,'•"

she recalled, with a hint of sadness in her voice.

Mrs. Weinblatt continued to deliver food and care for the man, even though he never apologized.

"All I want is for people not to hate," she said. "People should love each other and respect each other, regardless of age and religion.

"And respect your elders," she added. "I still practice that."

Contact Kirk Baird at

kbaird@theblade.com

or 419-724-6734.



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