Independent 97-year-old leads a fulfilling life

At 97, Anne Gitterman could be the poster model for successful aging.

Gitterman is legally blind, travels in Toronto with Wheel Trans, and has an oxygen tank for when she needs it. Yet she participates in a weekly pottery/sculpting workshop at Bernard Betel Centre.

“Whenever one of my students or someone new to pottery says that they can’t do something, I inspire them with the story of Anne Gitterman,” the workshop’s instructor, Anisoara Kirschner-Kozai, said.

Nothing stops Gitterman from attending her pottery workshop or from remaining positive and leading a fulfilling life.

Gitterman ‘s daughter, Gail Donner, who visited her mother at the Betel Centre during the interview, says, “My mother is amazing. She is very determined and just gets on with things. All of us forget that she is 97. She has good genes and you need that in life. She just moves forward.”

Recently, Gitterman fell and bruised herself. However, she got up as if nothing had happened and continued what she was doing.

Petite, weighing only 85 pounds, and living independently, Gitterman has been described as the wind-up pink Energizer bunny. She loves to tell stories and jokes and has a good memory.

She was born in Mizerich, Poland (now Ukraine). When she was one month old, her father, Jacob Mindess, and some other men from their small town were allowed to leave Poland, expecting to bring their families with them. But World War I broke out and the women had to stay and work to support their children.

When she was six years old, she, her nine-year-old brother and her mother came to Canada to join her father, who had settled in Winnipeg, where the Naiman family had sponsored many immigrants.

“I met my father for the first time when I was six years old. We moved to French-speaking St. Boniface where my father opened a grocery store,” Gitterman says.

“We moved back to Winnipeg when I was 10, because my brother was going to have his bar mitzvah.”

After she finished Grade 12, her parents, who then had two more children, couldn’t afford to send her to university.

Employment was hard to find in the 1930s, so she went to work in her cousin’s variety store.

Speaking of how she met her husband she said, “My mother had saved up money, and she sent me to Boston for a family simchah.”

Her parents also asked her to go to New York to meet her father’s older brother and some cousins. When she was returning, on a double-decker bus, from a cousin’s house, a young man, Sydney Gitterman, approached her and said that he knew her from Winnipeg.

“He was taking a fur design course in New York. He invited me out. I asked him to show me some identification,” Anne Gitterman says.

He called her when they returned to Winnipeg. They were married in 1940, and they worked side by side at their successful fur business, Gitterman Furs. They were married for 48 years.

Gitterman moved to Toronto 12 years ago, following her four children.

“I have great naches from my children, and they let me do what I want.” With pride she adds, “They are all very successful, and I have six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.”

Optimistically she says, “Every morning when I get up, I pinch myself. And every day, I go for a walk outside. Sometimes in the winter, I take a walker.”

Reflecting on her life, she says she regrets that all of her friends are gone and that, with bad vision, she can no longer play cards or games.

“When you are older, it’s difficult to make new friends, but I invite people to come in for tea and I always have baked stuff. I also bring my baking to my pottery group.”

Kirschner-Kozai said that “Anne is always caring and willing to listen and she offers her wisdom. I have sought her advice many times. She is truly inspiring for young and old.

“Everyone can learn from her positive attitude. If everyone, any age, will have her tenacity, it is a sure recipe for success.” ♦

This article first appeared in the Canadian Jewish News and appears here courtesy of the author. © 2010 by Cynthia Gasner.