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Milestones: Still speaking her mind at 105

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Moselle Rosenthal is doing all she can to liven things up at the Lakes of Litchfield.

Her family brought a big cake with flaming candles to the dining room Sunday evening to share with residents as part of an extended 105th birthday party — yes, she was born in 1909 — that began last Friday.

“When I came here,” Rosenthal said, “everything was kind of dull, shall we say, especially in the dining room.”

She began to shake things up her first evening when she told the server that she would like her beer before dinner. “She said, ‘BEER!’ and there was dead silence,” Rosenthal said. “I’m the only one who drinks beer. They drink wine. I’m not a wine drinker.”

Rosenthal said she loves people and wants to hear their stories. “They think I’m nosey — and I am — but every one of them has a story,” she said. “It’s sad because they’re not interested in that. All they do is sleep and play bingo, and half the time they can’t even stay awake for bingo. They have minds, but they don’t use them. That’s my purpose in life.”

Ovella Worsham, Rosenthal’s table mate and friend at the Lakes, said she livens things up. “I help her out when I can,” Worsham said. “All the residents love her. She’s one who tells it like it is.”

Rosenthal started a book club at the Lakes, and her room is evidence of her reading habit with a novel, “Deadlock” by Iris Johansen, and the Coastal Observer and Sun News in view. She has a Facebook page and e-mails her family and friends, including her boyfriend in New York, Werner Kleeman. “He’s only 93, a little young,” she said. “Not a bad looking guy.” Kleeman is a Holocaust survivor of Auschwitz and travels “all over” to speak about his experience.

Rosenthal said it’s unfortunate that her boyfriend lives so far away, but they talk on the phone. “He’s hard of hearing, too,” said Rosenthal’s daughter Carol Herrmann of Surfside Beach. “They scream at each other.”

Rosenthal finds it aggravating that almost everybody at the Lakes is hard of hearing. “At our table,” she said. “We have four people. One sitting on this side will say something, and the one sitting on the other side will say she can’t hear it. ‘What’d she say?’ I tell her, and then she answers but nobody else can hear her. By that time, everything is cold. It’s sad, but there’s humor in it.”

A tattoo on her arm of a sunflower from her native Kansas is more evidence of Rosenthal’s zest for life. The sunflower, inked on her 100th birthday, was her third tattoo. She got a small flower and butterfly near her ankles at ages 98 and 99 and can put her feet up on a coffee table to show them off. “I like to keep up with the younger generation,” she said.

Rosenthal’s granddaughter, Meredith McCarthy of Garden City, asked if she’d like to get a tattoo on a trip to Florida seven years ago and she said, “Why not?” The Sarasota Times got wind of the story and passed it to the Associated Press wire service. Rosenthal got a call from radio shock jock Howard Stern on the drive home and she was invited to the Wendy Williams television show in New York. The hullabaloo died down in a couple days. “Isn’t that ridiculous to be so excited over a tattoo?” Rosenthal said.

Her daughter and granddaughter have proposed her for the Guinness Book of World Records as the oldest person to get a first tattoo. “I’m not a publicity hound,” Rosenthal said, “but my children are getting a kick out of this.”

She was born in Washington, Kansas, July 11, 1909. Moselle’s family soon moved to Wellington, 30 miles south of Wichita near the Oklahoma border where farmers grew wheat and sunflowers. Her grandfather, a cigar maker, had emigrated from Germany to Kansas where he had relatives. “They decided they didn’t want to live in Kansas,” Rosenthal said, “I don’t blame them. My grandfather did some research and decided that Austin, Texas, was a good place to raise a family for the reason that they were just beginning to open the University of Texas. When he settled in Austin, it was a real cowboy western town. It isn’t any more. It’s good for music. They have all the rock bands.”

Moselle visited her grandparents in Austin during summer vacations. Her mother, she said, got tired of small-town Kansas, and the family moved to Nebraska, where she got a degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska. “When I graduated,” she said, “women weren’t given very good jobs. They had to take care of the society column, deaths and weddings.” She had a job offer back in Kansas, but her mother didn’t want to see her stranded there. As the top coed in her class, Rosenthal received a scholarship to New York University to get a master’s degree. She decided to study advertising. “That was the big thing at that time,” she said.

She got a job with the department store B Altman but lost it when the Depression hit and experienced advertising workers were readily available at low wages. With no job, she went home to Texas and started working on a doctorate. “I didn’t achieve that,” she said, “because I was engaged.”

Moselle’s fiancé, Herbert Rosenthal, a reporter for The New York Times, kept writing and asking when she was coming back to New York to get married. “He got me a job as a secretary,” she said. “I decided I’d rather be a secretary than anything else, but I was terrible. I hated all those little scribbles you had to do.” She found better jobs, first with a men’s clothing buyer, and then with one for women, until World War II started.

“I suppose it wasn’t very patriotic,” she said, “but my husband was in his 30s already and I wasn’t anxious for him to go to war. We decided that the best way to keep him out of the army was for me to get pregnant. Up to that time, we were living a gay life in New York. So I did, but that didn’t help at all. I guess they were on to it. He went to war, and I had the baby. When she was about 2, my husband came back, and from then on we made our life.”

The Rosenthals moved from their two-bedroom apartment in Manhattan to the suburb of Lynbrook, Long Island, where they raised two daughters, Carol and Harriette. When Herbert died in 1964, Moselle became a correspondent for The New York Times. “By accident,” she said, “I got a good job. I joined a travel agency in the Flatiron Building. I loved to travel and wanted to see the world. That’s why I wanted to be a newspaper reporter. I thought I’d get all over the world, but I didn’t. So I joined the travel agency.”

She worked there until age 85 when the business burned. “So that was the end of that,” she said.

Rosenthal moved to Surfside Beach to live with her daughter Carol. “I sold the house and moved down here,” Rosenthal said, “causing as much trouble as I can.”

While her daughter was grocery shopping, Rosenthal accidentally pushed the button on her Life Alert necklace and summoned paramedics. “All hell broke loose,” she said.

The family decided that Rosenthal needed more care than they could provide. “I was afraid to leave the house,” Carol said, “worried that she would fall. I couldn’t have 24-hour nursing. This way I can have peace of mind they are taking care of her.”

Rosenthal has been at the Lakes of Litchfield for four months. “This,” she said, “is a new adventure.”

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