Woman celebrates her 105th birthday in Oakland

Publish Date:

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

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Mercury News

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OAKLAND -- Sunrise Senior Living threw a party for its oldest resident with a birthday cake, candles and her favorite accordionist playing polkas and waltzes from her native Austria.

Pauline Kuchan was born on May 26, 1908, and just turned 105. She says she never thought she would live such a long life.

"I'm the only one in my family who has lived this long," said Kuchan, who celebrated the birthday on May 24. "In Europe, it used to be that 50 was considered old."

She thought if she reached 80 that would be good enough.

"I had it in mind that once I reached 80, I could go any time, but look how many more years I've had," said Kuchan, who is still sharp and quick to laugh.

Kuchan came to the United States in 1920 when she was 12 years old with her 10-year-old sister Maria and their aunt. Her parents traveled ahead to make a home for the family in Anaconda, Montana, where Kuchan's brother Ernest was born.

"We were on the ship for 23 days before arriving at Ellis Island," recalled Kuchan, who shared that the historic immigration document in which she was classified as a "student" from Slovenia. "We went through Italy and stopped at every port because we were loading up lemons and oranges to bring to the United States."

Her name is listed on the intake document as "Paulina" but she said people just called her Pauline once she arrived in the states.

"In fact, my birth name was Paula," she says.

Kuchan got married just days shy of her 17th birthday to her first husband Antone, who was from her native town of Veli Brgud (now part of Croatia). The couple took a vacation in San Francisco and decided to stay in California. They later bought a home in Sunnyvale and had one son named Edward.

Sadly, Antone fell ill and died in 1945.

"After my husband died, I had to support our son by myself," said Kuchan, who remarried in 1950. "Antone always said we would send him to school and college and I never forgot that."

Edward graduated from UC Berkeley as an engineer and worked on large-scale transportation projects. Kuchan is proud that her four grandsons were well educated, too. The great-grandmother also has 27-year-old twin great-grandsons.

Kuchan said one secret to a long life is hard work.

During World War II, she had a job packing candies, medicine and vitamins for soldiers.

After that, she worked the assembly line for the liquor company Hiram Walker for 28 years, first in San Francisco and then in Brentwood.

"I was mostly stamping the bottles and picking broken bottle pieces from the assembly line," Kuchan said.

The 105-year-old loves life at Sunrise.

"Everyone treats me nice and I like everybody," she said. "The food is good, so you never have to be hungry."

She exercises every day, plays games, joins in all the social occasions and parties, expresses her artistic bent through art and ceramics -- and gets her hair done every Wednesday.

She said that her eyesight isn't what it used to be.

"I had glaucoma, so my eyesight isn't so good any more," she said. "I don't read, but I still crochet."

In fact, as part of a Sunrise residents' service project for Children's Hospital in Oakland, Kuchan crocheted more than 200 caps for newborn babies.

Although her balance requires her to use a walker, Kuchan said she's in good health.

"There are little things wrong, but right now I have no pain anywhere," she said. "I've always gone to doctors. Right now I have a good doctor who tells me I'm his oldest patient."

Her eye doctor said she'll see as long as she lives.

"I'm able to take care of myself," Kuchan said. "I don't need any help yet."

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