News / Longevity

106-year-old woman has lived in Newport News for nearly 104 years

Martha Shapiro sometimes has trouble remembering parts of her 104 years in Newport News. But not the important things.

The two boys she raised here - Joe, 72, and Robert, 69.

That they were good boys who grew up to be good men.

And that, though her family was from distant Poland, Newport News was and is home.

Although most of Shapiro's friends and family have died, Sarah Deyong, 88, remembers her from time they spent attending the Adath Jeshurun synagogue, located then on 28th Street.

"Martha Shapiro was a very kind, a beautiful woman," she said. "A very warm person, a very kind person and a very generous person - so nice to be around."

A 1911 immigrant from Przasnysz, Poland, she, then 3, and her mother followed her father to the shipyard in downtown Newport News, where he worked as a carpenter.

Martha Shapiro, who will turn 107 on Jan. 12, is spending her final years at the James River Convalescent and Rehabilitation Center in Newport News.

As a centenarian - a person who is 100 or older - she is part of a demographic that makes up about .02 percent of the American population, according to a report released in April by the U.S. Census Bureau.

She may have trouble remembering details of day-to-day life, and many things from the past, but in personality she remains the same woman her son Joe has always known as Mom.

"You will find that many people will become arrogant" when their memory begins to fail, he said. "She's never arrogant. She's never demanding. I'm very fortunate that she maintained this sweet, loving, kind personality."

Some snapshots of time stick with Martha Shapiro: the family-built home on 28th Street, working as a stenographer at Langley Field, knowing that she never wanted to go back to Europe after her immigration.

Martha Shapiro's father worked in the shipyard, where she remembers visiting him occasionally. The family also owned a downtown grocery store, the name forgotten by all.

They originally lived on 25th Street and Chestnut Avenue, later moving into a home they built at 619 28th Street, Joe Shapiro said.

The entire Shapiro clan lived in the house on 28th Street for many years, including Martha Shapiro, her husband and their sons, as well as her parents, and her sister's family.

Martha Shapiro maintains that the crowded house was nothing special and that nothing bothered the family. Joe Shapiro said that the living arrangement was unique.

"A whole family lived together. It was a little community right there on 28th Street," he said.

Martha married Charlie Shapiro in 1939, and throughout their marriage he owned a Sunoco service station on Jefferson Avenue, and eventually a clothing store named Farley's on Washington Avenue.

Martha Shapiro was a good mother and homemaker, but she also worked outside of the home every day, said her niece, Janet Daniel.

"I had some jobs," Martha Shapiro said. "Whatever they had for me to do I did."

She remembers, most clearly, working as a stenographer at Langley Field. "It was a good job," she said. "I didn't consider it hard work."

But for most of her career, Martha Shapiro was the executive secretary of the Jewish Community Center. Her Jewish religion, a kosher home, the community center and the synagogue were important parts of her life, her niece said.

"It was important to her whole family," Daniel said.

Her family went to the Peninsula's first synagogue, Adath Jeshurun, founded in 1893, according to the United Jewish Community of the Virginia Peninsula's website.

Joe Shapiro said his mother lived modestly and without demands. She echoed that, saying, "There's a lot of stuff you can do without, and you feel better when you're without it."

And she's grateful for the life she has had in America.

"Sometimes it's not that easy for you," she said. "But you try to make the best of it."


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