The eldest resident at the Fritz Reuter Altenheim nursing facility in North Bergen was treated to a lavish birthday bash Tuesday, complete with champagne, a giant birthday cake, and a visit from her 97-year-old younger brother.
103-year-old Rita Spear smiled and enjoyed the company, especially when brother Martin Battestin joined the party.
An accordion player belted out peppy German tunes while many of the residents clapped, smiled and sang. It was a joyous occasion, but it should be, when one of your own reaches such a momentous milestone.
"It's very nice when we get a chance to celebrate a birthday like this," said David Kolk, the administrator at Fritz Reuter. "Rita is a special lady who was living independently in one of our assisted living rooms until a month ago, when she broke a hip. But she was very active until then."
Kolk said that Spear also has a very frisky side to her.
"She loves men and loves to flirt," Kolk said. "She has often said, 'Why don't you come back to my room?' I show her my wedding ring and tell her that I'm married, but she says, 'I don't care about that.' She is really a piece of work."
Rita Spear was born in Brooklyn on August 6, 1899 and lived there for almost 60 years. She became a resident of Fritz Reuter in 1997.
Her brother, Martin, was a reporter for Hearst Magazines during his career.
Ruth Wedelich, the president of the Fritz Reuter Ladies Auxiliary, called "Frauen Verein," in German, was on hand to present Spear with a bouquet of flowers.
"We try our best to support the residents as best as we can," Wedelich said. "We give them flowers, blankets, pillows, drapes and it all comes through donations. It's a lot of hard work, running flea markets and bazaars, with all income generated going to the residents."
Although Spear is the eldest resident, Wedelich said that there are at least four or five residents who are older than 100, and many in their 90s.
"When they have a birthday, we try to make it very special," Wedelich said. "It's special recognition for a special day."
Heinz W. Heinrich, the president of the Fritz Reuter Altenheim, was also on hand for the celebration.
"The people are who's important here," Heinrich said. "The people come first. You see a 103-year old woman enjoying her birthday, and it's uplifting. But it's also uplifting to the other people around her. They see that she has lived such a good life that they think maybe they can get there as well. They all have fun at events like this and that's very important. This is a great day."
Nothing was going to deny Spear from having a good time. She had already slugged down one glass of champagne and was busy eating a healthy chunk of cake when her brother arrived. Someone poured him a glass, but before he could toast his sister, she had already grabbed the glass and was sipping away once again.
When you live to be 103, you're allowed to have such liberty. Especially on your birthday.