By Karen Zautyk
Last week, Bernice Marshall, activities director at Alaris@Kearny (formerly the West Hudson Post- Acute Care Center), invited us to a birthday party there.
It was held Friday afternoon, and we arrived to find the guest of honor wearing a crown and seated at the head table — in a room filled with tables filled with guests. There were also a massive cake and scads of balloons and streamers.
And live entertainment. And folks laughing and dancing and, of course, offering their best wishes to that guest of honor.
We snared a temporary seat next to him, but conversation was not easy, what with all the music and singing and loving “Happy Birthday” interruptions from friends and family. We managed a chat — he was genial and witty — but we kept it brief, since the gentleman should not have missed a minute of this celebration.
Friday, you see, marked his 100th birthday.
The town’s newest centenarian is Anthony Dusman, born Jan. 25, 1913, on Long Island, but a longtime resident of Hudson and Bergen counties.
Dusman told us he knew he’d be getting a birthday cake. “But,” he added, with a huge smile and a glance encompassing the crowded room, “I never expected this!”
Singer Mike Gintella was entertaining the crowd with songs from back in the day, including real golden oldies, ballads by Sinatra and rock ‘n’ roll Elvis. We asked Dusman which was his favorite. “They’re all my favorites,” he said with a laugh. “All the way back.”
Dusman’s daughters, Helen Skibiak and Doris Russ, both of North Arlington, took time out from the festivities to fill us in on their dad’s life story.
Though a native Long Islander, he spent much of his early life in Hoboken and Jersey City, where he graduated from Dickinson High School. That was followed by 30 years in North Arlington, where he and his bride, Stella Prusko Dusman, raised their family on Canterbury Ave.
He and Stella were married for 37 years. They had moved briefly to Belleville, but after his wife’s death in 1978, he returned to North Arlington — for another 30 years. He has been a resident at the Alaris/ West Hudson center since 2008.
For 50 years, Dusman worked as a tanner at the R. Neumann Leather Co. in Hoboken, retiring about 1977. He and Stella had met at the factory, where Dusman’s father, Joseph, also worked. Skibiak said the company had a rule against family members working together, “so they all had to pretend they didn’t know each other.”
Russ noted that her father also served as a SeaBee in the U.S. Navy’s construction battallion from 1943 to 1945, stationed in Hawaii and on Guam.
Asked to recall some memories of their dad as a younger man, the daughters answered in unison, “Bingo!” “As soon as I was 21,” Russ said, she joined her father, mother and sister as bingo games “almost every night.”
The daughters also recalled that Sunday “was always family day out,” with trips down the shore and to Olympic Park.
Of their father, they noted too that “Atlantic City is his passion.” Before he came to the center, “he went to Atlantic City every month.”
At Alaris, he loves to play blackjack (he taught the dealers how to deal), Pokerino, Name That Tune, Trivia and, of course, bingo. And he plays along with “Jeopardy” and “Wheel of Fortune” on TV. Speaking of which . . .
Alaris offers Wii games on its TV, and Dusman loves to bowl (as he used to do at real bowling alleys). Now he plays the sport while sitting down, though with no less enthusiasm. He rolls the imaginary ball so hard, his daughters said, he wheels himself right out of his chair and lands on the floor – “and he keeps on playing!”
Before bidding a birthday farewell to Dusman, who was surrounded by dozens of nieces/nephews, grandnieces/ nephews and great-grandnieces/ nephews, we took time to read greetings from Sen. Frank Lautenberg and the birthday proclamation issued by Mayor Alberto Santos and the Kearny Town Council. And one other.
It read, in part: “You have witnessed great milestones in our nation’s history and your life represents an important part of the American Story.” And it was signed by Barack and Michelle Obama.