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Centenarians Celebrate Milestone Birthdays at St. Luke’s Miners Campus
March 28, 2024

Pauline Zarsky celebrates her 100th birthday during a party for her at St. Luke's Miners Campus Skilled Nursing Facility on March 11.

Two residents of St. Luke’s Miners Campus Skilled Nursing Facility are celebrating special birthdays this spring that most people never reach. 

Althea Zehner  -- 105 

On April 1 – April Fool’s Day – Althea Zehner will turn 105, and that’s no joke. Her neighbor, Pauline Zarsky, just hit the one-century mark. They’re the oldest residents on the unit that takes care of elderly, infirmed and recuperating patients. 

According to the US Census Bureau, only 1 out of 30,000 Americans reach age 105 or more.  

A party will be held to mark this amazing age on her birthday at St. Luke’s Miners Campus in Coaldale. The former schoolteacher entered the Skilled Nursing Facility in late January following a mild stroke, said her daughter Becky Zehner, who will join in the celebration on the unit.  

“Up until then, my Mom was pretty healthy, spry and active,” said Becky, of West Penn Township. Her mother lived with her until the stroke.  

Though Althea has some residual physical limitations from the stroke, and was blinded by advanced macular degeneration many years ago, she can answer questions and converse, which she sometimes does in Pennsylvania Dutch.  

“My mother loved teaching and her students, and she remembers them all,” Becky said. “She started teaching in a one-room schoolhouse in 1938, in Tuscarora (Franklin County), then taught until 1942 when she took 11 years off to raise her daughters.” 

“She went back to teaching in 1954 and retired in 1980, spending most of her career teaching in West Penn Township and Tamaqua.”   

Althea’s husband passed away in 1994. The family lived on a farm in West Penn Township for many years. Once they sold the farm, the couple traveled extensively to Europe, across the United States, the Caribbean and Mexico. Althea enjoys recalling and talking about their travels.  

“Mom’s always been a people person, interested in everything. She’s hard of hearing and speaks a little, but she’ll surely enjoy her birthday party and probably chat a bit with people there.”  

Pauline Zarsky  -- 100 

Pauline Zarsky turned 100 on March 11, her birthday ushered in with a party on the unit where she lives. Family, friends, the unit staff and a local official were there to help her celebrate.  

She was born in Lansford in 1924, when Calvin Coolidge was the President of the United States, the Summer Olympics took place in Paris, and actor Marlon Brando and U.S. President Jimmy Carter were born.  

She spends her days watching TV and looks forward to attending Mass on Sundays in the unit’s chapel. Mealtimes are special for her: she likes the fish, which she calls “brain food.”    

Her daughter, who lives in Michigan, and her niece visit Pauline at St. Luke’s Miners, where she has lived for a decade. 

She worked for a long time at the Nabisco factory in New Jersey, and then at Woolworth’s in Lansford. But she spent most of her work life cleaning area homes, she said.  

Pauline volunteered at the Miners hospital before she moved in.  

“I visited patients and entertained them,” she recalled with a smile. “They gave me a nice plaque.”   

She told of the time she cracked up residents by holding a pickle like a cigar and pretended to smoke it, relaying the story with a twinkle and a chuckle.  

What does reaching the century mark mean to Pauline?  

“I’m surprised. I never thought I’d do it,” she admitted.  

At her age, her future plans are pretty simple and shared by those who believe in the afterlife: “To go up to heaven.”  

What advice does she want to share with people, based on her lifetime of experience?  

“Be good and kind,” she said. “Help everybody that you can.”