Woodrow Wilson was U.S. president. War raged in Europe and the Luisitania was sunk. Stateside, Alexander Graham Bell invented the telephone, D.W. Griffith’s film “Birth of a Nation” debuted and the Cols. Ruppert and Tillingham purchased the N.Y. Yankees.
It was 1915, the year that Harrison’s Louise Silkowski was born and last Thursday, the Town of Harrison threw a birthday bash for its oldest living resident as she marked her centenary year. Family members and guests crowded the Harrison Senior Center for the festivities, arranged with loving care by senior citizen services manager Rita Silva.
These included a buffet lunch, a giant birthday cake, a display of photo memorabilia provided by relatives, a congratulatory proclamation from the Hudson County Board of Freeholders, town commendations and live music by the trio, A Touch of Sinatra.
There was also a framed letter from the Vatican, offering an Apostolic Blessing on the special occasion from Pope Francis.
Councilman Larry Bennett, who serves as exalted ruler of the Harrison/East Newark Elks lodge, lauded Louise for her many years of service with the Elks Ladies Auxiliary and, in particular, her tenure as auxiliary president when her team worked hard to keep the organization on its feet.
“We would have closed if not for her efforts at fundraising,” Bennett said. And the proof of the pudding, he added, is that, “in the last 10 years, we’ve given away $500,000 in scholarships and charitable donations.”
And, Bennett noted, Louise “is still an officer in the auxiliary,” so her devotion to the Elks continues.
Louise shared some remembrances with The Observer at her party. Her parents were Stanley and Julie Silkowski and they lived at 602 S. Second St. That’s where she was born on Aug. 27, 1915.
“We had a large family,” Louise said. “I was one of 10 children and there were a lot of nieces and nephews.”
Louise attended the local Polish Catholic School through grade 5 before switching to Washington School. After finishing with school, she went to work at the old General Electric plant where she was a tester of light bulbs.
“My brother Henry,” she recalled proudly, “became the first Polish police officer in Harrison.”
Life in Harrison in those days seemed a lot simpler. There were still the horse and carriage, she said, and “you could ride the trolley for a nickel and see the films for 10 cents” – the Terminal theater in Newark and a local movie house whose name escaped her.
“Vendors and merchants would come to your house with their wares,” she said.
“It was a nice town to grow up in,” she said. “It was very neighborly. People didn’t lock their doors. We’d visit each other and we took care of one another and one another’s children if they needed looking after.”
Louise first set eyes on her future husband, Joseph Wozniak, “on a baseball field at the end of our block on Second St. and he hit a home run. It was my brothers against his brothers.” There were 16 kids in Joe’s family so Louise and Joe had big families in common.
“Joe worked for the former Mayor Ray McDonough’s father in the plumbing business,” Louise said. He saw four years of action in WW II as a Navy Seabee and, after the war, resumed work as a plumber for the town until his retirement.
“We were married 55 years,” she said. “He died 22 years ago.”
She got active with the local VFW Ladies Auxiliary, the Elks auxiliary and the Rosary Society.
“I do some cooking but I also get Meals on Wheels,” she said. And the town’s senior bus picks her up to bring her to the senior center for regular visits.
Asked to reveal the secret to longevity, Louise offered: “Try to live a clean life – no smoking, no drinking.”