LAKEWOOD RANCH — The sparkle in Mae O’Neil’s eyes shines as brightly as it did the day she was born.
Even after more than 100 years.
O’Neil, the first resident of The Windsor of Lakewood Ranch Assisted Living, celebrated her 101st birthday Sept. 19.
The day before, Windsor staff members surprised her by singing a special birthday song written by one of their own.
“That was the cutest thing,” O’Neil said, smiling.
Staff members also celebrated O’Neil’s birthday by planting a jacaranda tree outside her window and letting her pick the menu for the facility’s happy hour. O’Neil, a seafood lover, requested chicken wings because her friends enjoy them most. She also asked for sangrias instead of the typical wine options.
“She’s a beautiful lady inside and out,” said Tammy Trent, The Windsor’s marketing director. “Once you meet her, you just want to get to know her better and better.”
O’Neil, an only child, was born Sept. 19, 1908, in New York City. The community was an entirely different city in those days — doors were kept unlocked — and O’Neil could run to and from her friend’s apartment house to her own without concerns for her safety, she said.
She married her first husband, Edward Lee, in 1932 during the peak of the Great Depression.
He and his coworkers at the fabric house where they worked agreed to take a 50% salary cut to keep the business from closing. The times were hard, but their efforts worked, O’Neil said.
“It was horrible,” she said of the times, shaking her head. “It was just horrible. We had stamps to buy meat. You had to be careful.”
At that time, O’Neil already had begun a business with two partners promoting school uniforms. Work for women had become more common after World War II.
“I just was interested in seeing if I could promote uniforms,” she said. “We started with boarding schools.”
She smiled thinking how the trend has caught on, even in public schools, years later.
Her husband died after 32 year of marriage, and six years later, O’Neil married one of her husband’s friends, Joseph O’Neil.
“He called and asked if I’d like to see a show that was popular at the time — ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’” she said, grinning. “That’s what started it.”
The couple lived happily, last residing in the Windsor, until Joseph O’Neil passed away Dec. 31, 2008.
O’Neil said she loves the place where she lives and enjoys going out to eat with friends, shopping and other activities.
Contact Pam McTeer at [email protected].
WORDS OF WISDOM
Mae O’Neil shares some tips she’s learned in her life:
1. To avoid wrinkles, wash your face before going to bed and use Pond’s Cold Cream.
2. Try to be upbeat at all times. “You realize some days are going to be dark and some will by sunny. But in those dark days, stay upbeat,” O’Neil says. “I think that might have been what carried me through the first depression.”
3. Take each day as it comes, and try to do the best you can in it.