Social worker Karalyn Kibbey, left, and Tanya Borochin of Sylvania, right, hold Ella Goncharskaya’s birthday cake as Mrs. Goncharskaya blows out the candles Thursday at the Arbors of Sylvania.
THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
In her 100th year of life, Ella Goncharskaya can still recite the phone numbers of nephews and other relatives she left behind in Russia more than 20 years ago.
Arbors at Sylvania crowned Mrs. Goncharskaya with a Happy Birthday tiara and hosted a birthday celebration with her family and friends Thursday afternoon at the residence.
Cheerful and touched by her party, she proudly sat at one end of the room with her well-wishers gathered around. Her strong, long, silver and gray hair was braided perfectly, and her outfit was carefully selected in tones of purple for the special day.
Mrs. Goncharskaya, who doesn’t speak any English, had her niece, Tanya Borochin of Sylvania, translate her thoughts about the past century of her life.
Asked to recall her life’s happiest moments, she seemed overwhelmed instead by her life’s tragedies.
“Well, I can’t really describe happy moments, but bad things in my life,” she said through her translator.
When she was born in 1913, the western Ukraine was a terribly unkind place for Jews to live. She and her family lived in a Jewish settlement under a Russian tsar. Her mother eventually moved the family to the Volga River in central Russia.
Her life in Russia was simple. Her relatives did not know her actual birth date, but they celebrate her birthday on March 18.
Her 1936 wedding to the late Anatoliy Berdinskiy was a straightforward, no-frills affair: just a simple white dress and no big celebration. “There was no wedding. We got married and some close-knit relatives came over,” Mrs. Goncharskaya said.
She said that if there was one thing she learned and could pass on to the younger women of today, it would be to live a good, clean life. “Get married. Have a family. Have a normal life,” she advised.
Revered by her relatives as the family matriarch, Mrs. Goncharskaya bore no children of her own.
Her eyes fell with sadness when asked what was the one thing she missed about the past.
“I want everyone to be alive who I was close to. I want relations to be the way they used to be,” she said and teared up thinking about those members of her family she outlived, including her two sisters and her husband.
“She is a strong woman. But stubborn, she is like five goats together,” her niece Mrs. Borochin, 66, said lovingly.
Mrs. Goncharskaya’s initial move to America in 1964 was a tough one. She, Mrs. Borochin, and others in the emigration party had to leave their belongings behind for the dream of a better life.
“We could only pack two suitcases each,” Mrs. Borochin said.
Karalyn Kibbey, Arbors at Sylvania's life enrichment coordinator, planned the celebration, which included cake and balloons. “She cried when I showed her the cake,” she said.
“I’m very happy from the bottom of my heart,” Mrs. Goncharskaya said.