Betty Diskin, George Freas and Geraldine Yatzkan all celebrate their 96th birthdays on April 4.
“I have outlived everyone,” Betty recounted sadly. She has experienced the passing of six half-siblings and their spouses as well as her husband Art and their sons, William and Robert.
But the Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy) has a caregiver she considers the daughter she never had, and credits Jackie Sciullo for giving her a reason to live.
“She saved me biologically and emotionally when I was very ill five years ago, and she still keeps me going,” Betty said. “I was so lucky when I found her.”
She articulates a lifetime of memories, telling the story of how she met her husband running through the Carlton House Hotel Lobby while working as a public relations professional for an ad agency.
“He called me the next morning, this young attorney, and said, ‘If you can slow down I’d like to take you to lunch,’ ”she said.
From that day throughout the next 37 years she saw him almost every day of her busy life: “We realized years later we might have met when I found a clipping in my scrapbook where I was pictured for winning a high school debate. Art wrote the article while he was working for the local paper in Meadville.”
Having earned a B.S. at Penn State and an M.S. from NYU in Communications, Betty taught English and Speech to handicapped children in New Jersey, was an actress at the Pittsburgh Playhouse, a patron of the Pittsburgh Symphony and the winner of the coveted Golden Quill Award in 1969 for her television show, ‘Twix 12 and 20.
Betty says she doesn’t give any advice but admitted that when she walked into her current home nine years ago she found warmth and caring.
“It was not difficult to make a decision to move here,” she said. She encourages seniors not to wait until they can’t make their own decisions and to find something beautiful in life every day.
George Freas Jr. moved to Concordia four years ago with his wife Eleanora after looking at three retirement homes.
“It was the best fit for both of us,” he said.
As members of the Bower Hill Church, they knew several residents and remained in the neighborhood where they had lived for decades.
His pre-med studies at Westminster College were interrupted following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He and his roommate enlisted in the U.S. Navy and were called to active duty in the Philippines. The writer of history stories and his own autobiography, “Random Reflections and Ruminations and A Few Stray Thoughts,” counts his most memorable experience as the day he met General MacArthur face to face when his boat was chosen to escort the General to the beaches of Borneo.
When WWII ended, he graduated from Pitt, married his college sweetheart “Jo” Smith and joined Bell of Pennsylvania as a District Manager. The couple had five children, including a set of twin boys, and later eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. In 1994, after 46 years of marriage, Jo passed away.
“Two years later, I married Ellie May, a widow who lived six doors down the street. She was a retired school teacher whom we had known for 35 years,” George explained.
They were married for 21 years until her death two years ago.
“It’s been a good life,” he said. “I never thought I would live this long since both my mother and father died at age 79. I crossed my fingers when I reached 79, said a prayer and here I am.”
Like Betty, he is the only one still living from the eight officers on his ship. He shares lots of advice, however: “Take one day at a time. Surround yourself with good friends. Every day when (and if) you wake up, thank God and enjoy the people around you.”
Geraldine Yatzkan was among the first to move to the new retirement home at 1300 Bower Hill Road in 2002. She had retired after 20 years as a social worker at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital.
“My daughter noticed an advertisement inviting us to take a look,” she remembers. “It was a very good move. While I have no idea why I am living this long, my biggest thought is living here takes away everyday stress. That makes a huge difference in longevity.”
Born and raised in Squirrel Hill, she met her husband when they were undergraduates at the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. David Yatzkan went to medical school in Chicago and returned to Pittsburgh to open his practice in ophthalmology in Homestead. He urged Gerry to have a profession, and she pursued her masters in social work at Pitt. After he passed away at age 47, she began her career. The couple had two sons and a daughter. She also has four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter.
She and David traveled to Italy and England on their 20th anniversary with their children. Since she has lived at Concordia she spent a week at Canyon Ranch and loved to visit her family in California, Philadelphia, Chicago and Florida. She served on various committees throughout the years and still belongs to the dinner group. (Her favorite restaurants are Bistro 19 and Luma).
Since she doesn’t travel any more, her family comes to her now.
“At my age, their visits are something I look forward to,” she said.
The celebration of her birthday this year is one of those events she anticipates. Her daughter and a cousin will arrive on Thursday to pack her clothes. On Friday they are off to her favorite hairdresser and then to a spa at a downtown hotel overnight.
Gerry still loves to go to all of the activities offered at Concordia, dines every evening with her friends and has never been more certain that this is a good place to live.
“I hear theses commercials on TV about staying at home. This is a much better answer as we age,” she countered. “Everyone honors everyone else. We welcome each other.”
For more information on retirement living at Concordia of the South Hills where residents will be celebrating a tri-birthday or our other retirement living communities (Concordia at Sumner in Copley, Ohio, Highpointe at Rebecca in Allison Park, Concordia Haven Apartments in Cabot and Concordia Village of Tampa, visit www.ConcordiaRetirement.org.