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Sunnyside’s 104-Year Old Remains Active and Engaged in Neighborhood

Ethel Plimack (Photo: James Brown Reiner)

Ethel Plimack (Photo: James Brown Reiner)

Dec. 1, 2014 By Kim Brown

At 104, Sunnyside’s oldest resident said she doesn’t know the secret to living so long, but spending decades on Bliss Street certainly played a part.

“Being in familiar territory day in and day out is very helpful,” said Ethel Plimack’s son, Henry Plimack. “When she sits on the porch everyone comes to say hello. This is what makes her day.”

The day after her 104th birthday she sat on the first floor of her home with her son, knitting and watching NY 1 News. Paintings by her daughter, the artist Sylvia Plimack Mangold, hang on the walls.

As usual, Ethel Plimack was impeccably dressed in an outfit that included a necklace, silk scarf, red eyeglasses and lipstick the same bright shade.

For the past two years she has had a full-time aide, whose assistance has allowed her to remain at home. Before that, she preferred to cook and clean for herself.

The connection to the community has kept her grounded.

“I love the tree-lined streets. People are nice and you know your neighbors. You give when you can,” she said.

Being active certainly has kept her going, as well. Plimack worked as an administrative assistant until she was 94, taking the subway to Marymount Manhattan College every day. She also swam at Equinox until she was 100.

Plimack is part of a longevity study at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine that revealed good genes, a wide social network and active lifestyle helped her to age so long and so well.

“We can only marvel at her extraordinary memory and continuing good health,” her daughter, Janet Sherman, wrote in an email. “She is certainly a remarkable woman.”

Although her husband, an optical supply wholesaler, died 40 years ago, it didn’t stop Plimack from doing things she loved. In fact, his death may have given her the freedom to take up folk dancing, which she did until she was 100.

“Men don’t like to dance,” she said.

The troupe she performed with, founded by Michael and Mary Ann Herman, was one of the most well known in the United States. Plimack helped spread the art of folk dance around the world by participating in tours to China, Turkey, France, Bulgaria, and many other countries.

Now, her hearing and sight are not so good and her love of dance is confined to watching “Dancing with the Stars” on TV. But she has found other ways to spend her time.

She knits constantly for charity sales, as well as an organization that donates caps to premature infants.

She watches the news.

“It’s terrible,” she said about current events. “I try to contribute towards stopping whatever is happening.”

She signs petitions when canvassers come to her door.

“I hope there are classes for younger people,” she added. “To know how to live in the world and what to correct.”

Her three children, all over 70, grandchildren and great grandchildren also keep her going.

“When we were kids she encouraged us to do what we wanted to do. To do what felt right,” said Henry Plimack, a retired audio engineer and current adviser to the French presidency with Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers.

Ethel Plimack’s daughter, Sylvia Plimack Mangold, is a well-known artist, whose work has been exhibited at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Museum of Modern Art, and numerous other venues. Not long ago her mother attended an art opening and there was a special chair reserved for her.

“Moments like that give her months of chatting with her friends,” her son, Henry Plimack said.

James Mangold, Ethel Plimack’s grandson is a Hollywood director, screenwriter and producer, known for movies like The Wolverine, Walk the Line and Cop Land.

Another grandchild is a musician in Vienna.

“What inspires her is the success of her family,” Henry Plimack said. “It’s a good, strong family. They all call and write to her and she feasts on that.”

Ethel Plimack grew up in the Bronx, where she attended Evander Childs High School. After attending Hebrew Tech in Manhattan, she became a bookkeeper and administrative assistant, working for a dress company in Queens, the New York City Department of Education, Bryant High School and P.S. 150.

Plimack has lived in Sunnyside since 1941, when most everyone kept open doors.

Although she doesn’t have a Facebook account, she does have her own iPad, which she uses to Skype with family. Until last year, colleagues at Marymount Manhattan College held an annual birthday party for her in the city. This year, they sent letters and messages by email.

For the past two years, Sunnyside neighbors have held a flash mob on her birthday, singing to her outside the front door. This year approximately 120 people came at noon, although Plimack was standing by the entrance waiting 10 minutes early.

“It was a lot of people and friends from the neighborhood. They all want to show the area is good,” she said. “It was wonderful when they all came.”

When asked to reveal the secret for living a long and healthy life, she was modest.

“I don’t know what the secret is. All I know is, I’m alive 104 years. That’s a long time.”

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Nora Peyton

We moved to Sunnyside Gardens in 1962, when I was ten. My dad, Barney Wynne, was active in the community organization. The Plimacks were great people. And I agree with Mrs. Plimack that living on Bliss Street in Sunnyside is good karma indeed! Well played!


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