The Month of May pays homage to many observations: Mental Health Awareness, Stroke Awareness, National Nurses Month, but also, Older Americans Month. This holiday was created out of necessity for the appreciation and recognition of the accomplishments of older adults in American society. It is also a time for the rest of us to renew our commitment to serving the older Americans in our communities.

In Western society, aging is often seen as a debilitating factor not to be celebrated, but to be feared. We have antiaging supplements, beauty creams and exercise regiments to help us “feel younger,” when our bodies will never be as young as they were yesterday. Being young, or even just feeling young in this case, is tied to attraction, strength, and perhaps power.

Youth is great, but it seldom has a life lived or rich stories to tell. It hasn’t bore history like the minds of our older Americans, and we’re lucky to have shelves upon shelves of books filled with their take on things, both local and worldly. That’s true of what’s unfolding around Syracuse and the many older Americans nestled in Loretto living facilities, like Muriel Halsey, a 101 -year-old mother, grandmother, widow and Eastwood native who has seen a lot of change around here.

Muriel celebrated her 101st birthday on this year’s solar eclipse last month, a very special occasion because New York was in the path of totality. Her age also corresponds with her room number. The stars aligned perfectly for these coincidental events but, Muriel is more than just that, she’s Buckley Landing’s oldest resident, and her place among them is quite the dynamic too.

She became part of the Loretto family in December 2023 after living in Park Terrace in Baldwinsville. Before that, she lived on a farm in Fernwood, which is about five miles south of Pulaski. That would be her home for 60 years, where she had raised two daughters, Betsy and Bonnie, with her husband, Donald — who she recalled very fondly. There was no running water or bathroom at first at that farmhouse, but Muriel was content, nonetheless.

“I was just as happy as a lark because I was with the guy I wanted to be with,” she said. “So those things just kind of looked in the future sometime.”

Born April 8, 1923, Muriel grew up in the Eastwood neighborhood, in a home she shared with her mother, father and little brother. She attended school there all through high school. The house on the corner she had grown up in still stands today, and before moving to Loretto, she’d drive by every now and then to see how it looked on the outside. Once in Loretto, her connection from her old home did not fade. She met a resident who also once lived in the same house.

After graduating, Muriel worked for L.C. Smith in Corona Typewriter Works in Downtown Syracuse during World War II. She was a secretary in the purchasing department. She worked there for about a year and a half.  Then, she met her husband, —. That’s when they’d leave Eastwood and buy a farm in Oswego County, where they’d raise their two girls and remain for the rest of their marriage. During her time on that farm, she worked for a cattle auctioneer, R. Austin Backus, and would frequently travel to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.

She also recalled the chickens, cows and horses they kept and cared for on the farm. They hired workers to harvest strawberries in the summer. Muriel says a good harvester will pick the perfect berry, giving you a better profit at the markets. She remembers every morning her husband firing up the wood stove and then opening his bible, a daily practice because he was a man deeply connected to his faith. He did this until he was 86. He would pass away at the age of 87 from lung cancer in 2003.

“He was a special man,” she recalled,” When we had his funeral, a lot of people came that he went to school with and all of these men with tears running down their cheeks. He thought a lot of other people first.”

There was a time she recalled before busy highways and backroads that connected everyone. The nights and days were quieter and simpler, as was getting around, but bore unique challenges otherwise. This was a time before I-81 and the notorious viaduct project reshaping Syracuse’s major roadways like clay and mucking up travel for just about everyone. Think about a time when you didn’t pull a car out of a driveway to go to the store, but instead you caught the trolley car at a specific time. That was Muriel’s life in Eastwood. Later, the family’s private vehicle while living on the farm, but rural life was far and in between.

Going through the Great Depression era, Muriel was unable to afford college, but her two daughters were able to attend. Betsy went to Ithaca College and majored in Piano and Bonnie went to Fredonia College and majored in Elementary Education. Regardless, it is an experience she expressed prepared and humbled her for the future.

“We were brought up not to contradict our parents or grandparents and not to talk back to them, that was one thing. But my brother and I never knew we were poor, because my folks never talked about money when we were around. Young people got a job right out of high school usually.”

Now the 101-year-old rests at Buckley Landing, Loretto’s assisted living community on Buckley Road in North Syracuse, coincidentally in room 101. Her daughters are now in their 80’s. She has grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Halsey says she has met Buckley residents that went to school with her own children.

“I guess I’m proud of marrying the right man and having two beautiful girls that are thoughtful.”

Blog By: Xiana Fontno


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