Resident celebrates 100th birthday

Josephine (Jo) Therault is greeted at her birthday party by Debra Fellenbaum, one of many guests who showed up to wish her a happy 100th. Therault’s birthday is Aug. 25.

Josephine (Jo) Therault said music may be one of the keys to a long and happy life.

Therault turns 100 on Aug. 25, and this past Sunday celebrated with friends, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren at her North Street home.

The lifelong Milford resident was born at Milford Hospital on Sunday Aug. 25, 1918, to Selma Mary Golembeski and Joseph Krusewski. She grew up on Railroad Avenue with her mother and siblings: Walter, Vincent and Ann, and later moved to Factory Lane. Josephine was the youngest.

Josephine went to Central Grammar School and Milford High School, graduating in 1936, and married Paul Leo Therault on May 1, 1942, at St. Mary’s Church. The couple had two daughters, Lorraine and Patricia, and now there are six grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.

Lorraine Chapin and Patricia Therault talk about the strength of the woman they call “Mother.” Their father was not part of their lives from a young age, and so Josephine was left to raise them and provide for them on her own.

Josephine worked as a hat maker at A.J. Donahue, a straw hat factory in downtown Milford, where she remembers attaching snaps to straw hats. After the factory closed she was a secretary in the payroll department at Chance Vought, then a secretary in the inspection department at Sikorsky Aircraft, from which she retired in 1984.

Her daughters don’t know exactly how their mother managed to save $3,000 to put down on her $9,000 house in 1955. But they know she was always very responsible with money. For example, granddaughter Rebekah Fancher remembers that when she turned 16 and needed a car, she asked her grandmother for $1,000 to add to the $1,000 she had saved herself.

Josephine lent Rebekah the $1,000, contract and all, and Rebekah paid her $74 a month until it was paid off.

“She wanted me to know that nothing was ever just handed to you,” Rebekah said.

Josephine’s salary may have been relatively small, but she was resourceful and fun.

Peggy Lennox, who grew up near the Theraults, remembers being in Josephine’s car when she, Lorraine and Patricia were younger, and Josephine would beep the horn at boys the girls knew when they drove by. The girls would duck below the seat, embarrassed. Today they admit it was sort of funny.

The family and friends remember Josephine as a regular bowler, bowling with friends in a duckpin league every Tuesday, then stopping at Lasse’s for coffee and an English muffin.

She always had a quick wit and a great sense of humor.

“She’s the best neighbor,” said Edna Crego, noting that Josephine never complained years ago when Edna’s teenage sons would create some kind of mischief.

But mostly her family talked Sunday about her generosity and volunteer efforts.

Josephine has been a parishioner at St. Mary’s Church for 100 years. She is also a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and has volunteered at the West Haven Veterans Administration Hospital for more than 20 years, as well as in various nursing facilities for more than 30 years.

Grace Box, who has worked at Golden Hill Nursing Home, knows Josephine for her years volunteering there.

“She’d come in quietly, and oh my God, the smile on people’s faces when they’d see her. She was sincerely interested in every resident,” Box said.

Josephine had a system, her daughters said. She’d knock on a resident’s door at the nursing home and she would say their name out loud, and then say, “Do I know you? I’m Jo Therault. Or maybe you knew my brothers?”

And that would start the conversation rolling.

There was one man at the nursing home who was physically disabled, and he became like a part of Josephine’s family.

Box said the man would just light up when he saw Josephine coming to visit him, and Josephine beamed at her party Sunday when the conversation turned to the man she befriended there. Box said Josephine made him feel good about himself.

“If you can do that for another human being, that’s a great gift,” Box said. Josephine did that for all the people she visited, her family said.

Daughter Lorraine said her mother has always been quiet — the strong, silent type, who touches the world with simple acts of kindness.

One friend remembered Josephine making cabbage soup for someone at the VA Hospital, and homemade candy for another veteran there.

She played Santa Claus at the VA Hospital Christmas party.

“I think her faith is the basis of her heart for people,” said daughter Patricia.

As Josephine’s grandchildren grew, they always knew where to go if they were low on some household staples, like laundry detergent. Grandma, an avid couponer, would stock her garage with supplies and tell the family members to grab what they needed, said granddaughters Kristen Porter and Kim Bishop.

Singing seems to have been one of Josephine’s special gifts: She was a member of the church choir at St. Mary’s and a 20-year member of the Senior Center Gospel Choir, and she’s always singing, her daughters said. Christian Tracz, a friend of the family, took his accordian to the party Sunday and played some tunes, like You Are My Sunshine and some Polish numbers, and Josephine aptly provided the vocals.

Today, at just about 100 years old, Josephine enjoys going out for coffee, reading the newspaper, and spending time with children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, some of whom live right next door. And she smiles when she thinks of the old days growing up in Milford, recalling the trolleys that ran through town, walking to Fort Trumbull Beach with her mother to swim, and the games she would play as a child.

One favorite was jumping from sofa to chair and other furniture, with the intent of not touching the floor. And Josephine’s daughters remember her stories about making fudge with a friend when her mother was out, and then burying what wasn’t eaten in the backyard so her mother wouldn’t find out they’d used so much sugar.

Her mantra for many years has been “Sto lat,” her granddaughter said, Polish for “100 years” and a song sung on birthdays.

The accordionist played the song for her on Sunday, and she sang it as she has for many years:

Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.

Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.

Good luck, good cheer, may you live a hundred years.

One hundred years!

 

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