Nettie Knobel is like so many young people. She drives herself to her part-time job at the Puppy Park pet store on Main Street in East Rockaway, where she works seven days a week, from noon to 4 p.m. Afterward, she usually plays computer games, reads on her Kindle, checks her Facebook page or fiddles on her iPhone.
Here’s the thing: Knobel turned 100 on Sunday. She celebrated her milestone birthday at her daughter Roni Suffin’s house and at the Silver Point Beach Club in Atlantic Beach, which she frequents.
Of Puppy Park, she said in her soft voice, “I started working here because it gave me something to do. That’s what’s keeping me alive. You’ve got to keep yourself busy.
“When you talk to everybody, they’re all on their phones,” Knobel continued. “So I want to get even with them. They seem very busy, and I’m making believe that I’m busy too,” she added with a laugh, in between helping customers.
Knobel was born Nettie Brettschneider in the Bronx on Sept. 2, 1918. She later moved to Manhattan and Far Rockaway, Queens, before settling in East Rockaway. Her mother, Jennie, died when she was very young, Knobel said, and her father, Louis, struggled to support her and her two sisters during the Great Depression. When Knobel was 10, she said, she lived alone with her sisters Beatrice, who was 16 at the time, and Sadye, who was 12. Beatrice died only seven years later, at age 23, while Sadye died in 1985, at 69.
“My dad was working, but he couldn’t at that time take care of us,” she said. “A lack of money and he had to work, and there was nobody else to take care of us.”
When she was 17, Nettie met her future husband, Eddie Knobel, while shopping for produce at a grocery store that he worked at. The couple married in 1940, and soon afterward, Eddie joined the Army. He was injured during the Normandy invasion in June 1944, when he was struck in the head by flying shrapnel and partially lost his hearing. He died from lung cancer in 1976, and Knobel never remarried. The couple had two children, Stephen and Roni.
Roni, who owns Puppy Park with her husband, Steve Suffin, said her mother has always supported the family and has been their rock. “She’s an amazing woman, and I’m very fortunate,” Roni said. “Anyone who knows her loves her, and they feel fortunate to know her.”
Knobel said she tried to give her children everything that she didn’t have growing up during the Depression. She now has two grandchildren, Lesli and Eric, and four great-grandchildren, Mackensi, 15, Alexi, 13, Joeli, 10, and Eli, 4. She has a blast playing with her great-grandchildren, she said, noting that their energy keeps her going.
For much of her adult life, Knobel was a homemaker, but she helped her husband at the many grocery stores and laundromats that he owned when he needed a hand. She started at Puppy Park 25 years ago as a way to keep her mind occupied. At the store, she has formed a bond with many of the customers, including Alan and Ellie Greenberg, who patronize the shop frequently.
“Nettie always greets me with a warm welcome and an easy smile,” Alan said. “She greets me with her Kindle by her side and her Chinese lunch, which she is always willing to put aside to ask about everyone with good wishes for all.”
Ellie called Knobel the treasure of Puppy Park, and said she welcomes the family with a warm greeting. “Nettie has a way of making you feel special with her caring,” she said. “I suspect my husband stops in just to see Nettie, and I’m OK with that.”
In addition to working, Knobel also dines with friends at the Sherwood Diner in Lawrence once a week, and keeps up with the latest technology. She said her love for technology began after she lost her husband and was alone a great deal.
While reflecting on the last 100 years, Knobel said she has experienced and seen a lot in her lifetime, which includes living as a child for two years during the time when women were denied the right to vote and then watching Hillary Clinton run for president in 2016.
Roni noted that her mother is usually the life of the party. “She loves to party,” she said. “She’s a party person, always has been.”
Knobel didn’t deny it. “I love to dance,” she said. “I used to, but the feet don’t go so well nowadays.”