Southern Tier centenarian has secret for a good life
By dc. tom picciano / SUN contributing writer
Endicott — Helen M. “Peg” Dolan sat at a table smiling as people scurried around her, making last minute preparations for a party. She wore a white corsage on her blue sweater. A stuffed animal was nestled in her arms, dressed in a Happy Birthday sweater.
Family, friends and parishioners made it a special evening as Dolan celebrated her 100th birthday on June 15 at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish. Earlier in the day, there was another party at The Waters, the nursing home where she lives.
“Be happy and stay busy,” are the words which have kept Dolan going for the last century. “Be happy. Busy. I’ve been busy and happy all my life,” said Dolan.
Dolan attended Binghamton High School and cheered on her future husband, Cozy, who was a football player for rival Endicott High School. After her marriage, she became a stay-at-home mom. But she also helped out on the school playground and in the lunchroom. She served as a county and school district elections official. Dolan also devoted time to church as a member of the parish council and the Altar Rosary Society.
Dolan is a charter member of the Court Bishop Foery #1502, Catholic Daughters of the Americas in Broome County. “I was regent,” she said. “I was the head. Like the president. I was on all kinds of committees. Started lots of card parties and we had all kinds of things going on.”
The local chapter was founded back in 1949. “I still belong to the Catholic Daughters,” she added. “They didn’t kick me out.”
The group was represented at the get-together. “Peg was regent when I joined Catholic Daughters. I’ve known her a long time,” said member Helen Buran. “When Peg was regent she was vibrant and she was a very outgoing person. They loved her, they appreciated her and they cooperated with her and supported her,” said Wilma Youarski.
But Youarski notes times have changed for the Catholic Daughters. “It’s so hard to get the younger members,” said Youarski. And at the age of 100, Dolan admits she wouldn’t mind being regent again.
Peg and Cozy Dolan had four children. A son, Robert, died when he was 10 years old. Their three daughters, Patricia Dolan, Barbara Hill and Kathleen Seliga organized the big birthday party at the parish.
Cozy did a lot of traveling for Endicott-Johnson, leaving Peg at home with the children.
“She was the stronger parent. My father was a pushover,” said Seliga. Her mother was also very supportive of school activities, including attending every basketball game.
Now, the children are supportive of Peg at the nursing home. “They all live close by so they can come and see me every day at the home,” Dolan said.
Daughter Patricia notes that although her mom no longer lives in the neighborhood, she still looks forward to her visits to Our Lady of Good Counsel. “Her favorite day of the week is Sunday because she comes here every week,” said Patricia.
The family attended St. Ambrose when they first moved to the West Endicott neighborhood in 1950. But within two years, they decided to go to Our Lady of Good Counsel, just a few blocks away. Dolan was a daily communicant. When she lost her sight, she still went to Mass each morning, using a cane to make her way up the street under the watchful the eyes of her neighbors.
Jennifer Dolan remembers that her grandmother learned to use the cane from the blind workshop. “She’s awesome! She taught me how to do everything from how to tie my shoes, to bake a pie, to stuff a turkey,” said Jennifer, one of six grandchildren. “She’s a good example of how to live fully and enjoy every day.”
A stuffed mutt is always at Dolan’s side. Named Honey, he has many different outfits, including a tuxedo worn to a granddaughter’s wedding a few weeks ago. The dog was given to her several years back by deacon Tom Harley of the parish.
“I try to go up to see her once or twice a month. She’s our oldest living parishioner so she gets special attention,” Dc. Harley said. “If you can’t take care of the senior citizens who can you take care of?”
Harley’s mother died back in 1972.
“I was 25 years old at the time so I never really had a chance to have an adult relationship with my mother. So Peg is my mother that I have an adult relationship with. She’s a pleasure to be with,” said Dc. Harley.
Dolan is bothered that she’s not so active at age 100. But she loved the parties on her birthday. And after two celebrations in one day, she admitted she would sleep well that night. “This is a good tired,” she said.
Be happy and stay busy. And a few more words of wisdom from a woman who has lived a century: “Never was on a diet.”