“They say I don’t look my age, but I don’t know. I think I look like an old bag,” said Lena Karaman, who celebrated her 100th birthday on May 14. “To me, it’s just another age. I don’t even feel it,” she laughed, shrugging.
Karaman has been active her whole life. Even now she shops, drives, walks, cooks and cleans without assistance. “I don’t sit around and do nothing,” she said. “I have to move.”
Born in Connecticut, she moved to Rockville Centre at age 4. She attended Morris Elementary School — which closed in the 1970s — as well as South Side Middle School and South Side High School.
After dropping out of high school at age 16, Karaman worked until she was 75. “There was nothing to do at home, so I worked,” she said. “I didn’t like lagging around.”
She has worked at a handful of local delis and grocery stores, and as a carhop for a fast-food joint —where she met and served ice cream to Phillip, the man who would become her husband.
At age 65, she was hired as a proofreader for a print shop on Sunrise Highway called Imprint Products. “She still reads a book per week,” said her daughter-in-law, Mary, who is married to Karaman’s son, Richard.
Karaman continued working even after Phillip retired and became what she called a “house husband,” but stopped when he died in 1992, months before their 50th wedding anniversary. She moved to Florida later that year, leaving the house on Liberty Avenue that she had lived in for 70 years.
Karaman returned to the village to see her family and celebrate a century of living with a party on May 19 at her granddaughter’s home. In addition to her son, she has three grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, and pointed out that she would not want to raise children today. She said life “back then” was nice, easy and simple, but today is “too complicated,” noting how her great-grandchildren don’t know the game of stoopball and would rather dawdle on their smartphones.
Although many of her friends have died, she still spends time with her best friend of 70 years, 93-year-old Oceanside resident Dora Casapini. The two met through Casapini’s husband, who worked for Karaman’s father after Casapini emigrated from Colombia. Karaman helped Casapini learn English, and she is the godmother of Casapini’s son.
During an interview with the Herald, Karaman showed off her tan. At her residential complex in Florida, the other seniors call her “the amazing lady,” noting her strength and independence. “She drives the old people around,” said her son, Richard. “In fact, she just renewed her driver’s license for another six years.”
Karaman also enjoys her walks. Before cutting back last year, she would walk two miles daily. “We take her to the doctor, they prescribe her medication or recommend a procedure, and she refuses,” noted Mary. Karaman indicated that she stays healthy by eating three well-balanced meals regularly. She does not wear glasses and only takes one pill each day to level her blood pressure.
“I don’t have a secret,” she concluded. “I’m just living. I guess I’m not good enough for God, or bad enough for the devil. They just don’t want me yet.”