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For what it’s worth Nonagenarians who ‘deny and ignore their age’

December 20, 2018

So when do we say “Merry Christmas” or “Happy Holidays?” I’ve solved the problem for myself by saying both unless I know a person’s religious faith or lack thereof. Let’s face it, the Christmas season has become as much of a secular holiday than Dec. 25 is in itself. Take the long-ago situation of my ubiquitous friend Herb Kohn who at age 12 and growing up in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood in Brooklyn was in Beth Zion Hospital at Christmastime and his father brought him a tree.

“We always had a Christmas tree, even though friends seeing my dad carrying home a tree would ask him what in the world was he doing with a Christmas tree,” Kohn, who has been a member of the Stamford Police Commission, other city boards and the last president of the Stamford Twilight baseball league, once told me. “And he wanted to make sure I had one for Christmas even though we were Jewish.” Doesn’t get much more ecumenical and secular than that. Ever since, Kohn always put up a Christmas tree for his late wife, Kay, a Roman Catholic, and his children, Cathy and Kevin.

Speaking of 95-year-old Kohn, he is one of a number of remarkable nonagenarians I know who seem to both deny and ignore their age. Kohn, longtime co-owner of a downtown furniture store and later an employee of the Stamford Department of Operations, still goes into his office at the department’s Magee Avenue building a few times a week and drives wherever he wants to go. An all-Army shortstop before serving as a cryptographer when he was in the U.S. Army during World War II, Kohn was also the last of the two-handed set-shot basketball players, and a good one, in a very competitive lunch-hour game at the old and new YMCA while in his late 70s. I know because I played in some of those games that involved good players such as Jack Smyth, Franklin Melzer and Gene Rubino. Other friends who refuse to grow old include one of Stamford’s all-time great citizens, Monsignor Thaddeus Malanowski, best known as “Father Ted” to parishioners at Holy Name of Jesus Church in the South End, where he was an altar boy as a teenager before becoming a priest and the first Polish chaplain to become a general in the U.S. Army in which he served for more than 30 years. After his retirement from the U.S. Army, Monsignor Malanowski returned to the church of his boyhood and still helps celebrate Masses despite a case of Parkinson’s Disease which has slowed him down and forced him to end his daily lap swims at the Tully Center. Other nonagenarians I know, and marvel at, include Charlie and Sandy Guinta, longtime members of the Italian Center who continued to play tennis into their 90s and lead very active lives, both in their native Stamford and in Florida and Arizona, respectively, where they spend the winter. Sandy Guinta was a compositor in the press room at the Advocate for 55 years, following in the footsteps of his father who had been a linotype operator for the paper for 44 years. Charlie Guinta was a senior vice president of Waldenbooks in Stamford and a former State Street Debating Society Man of the Year. What a joy it has been to know these wonderful friends.

Quote of the Week from Michael Handler, head of Stamford’s Mold Task Force, which is investigating mold found in Stamford’s schools and at the Stamford Government Center in recent months: “A trained, licensed hygienist will look at the Government Center. I wouldn’t be surprised if tests come back with areas of mold. But the task force will go where the inspections and the spore testing tell us to go.” The big question here is why isn’t that done before schools open. Kevin Mackey, a supervisor at the Italian Center, whose wife is a Stamford educator, has an even better suggestion. “Why don’t they inspect the schools for mold starting the day after schools close in June,” Mackey said to me on Tuesday. “That way if they find mold, they’d have all summer to get rid of it.” Great point, Kevin.

Quote of the Week II by Frank Bruni, an excellent columnist for The New York Times, referring to President Trump’s disgraced lawyer Michael Cohen, who was given a three-year prison sentence this week: “No president in my lifetime has been surrounded by such a populous crowd of scammers, grifters and shameless opportunists, and Cohen was Exhibit A, doling out hush money, threatening disobedient reporters and bellowing and swaggering through a world lit by neon and shimmering with gilt.”

It’s not exactly a happy note to end my holiday column with, but nevertheless a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all.

Jack Cavanaugh is a Stamford native and resident and a columnist for the Advocate. He’s a veteran print and network reporter and sportswriter and the author of six books.

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