July 16, 2020

97-year-old Bangor woman shares secret of longevity

The term “sharp as a tack” doesn’t quite cut it when describing Ida Schiro. Said tack has nothing on this 97-year-old matriarch.

The native of Nashua, N.H., attended the New England Conservatory of Music, where she became an accomplished violinist, pianist and singer.

But, Ida has her sister to thank for ending up in Bangor.

“My sister was going with a young man from Bangor and she wanted me to come meet him and his family,” she said. “They introduced me to Albert and five days later he proposed.” They were wed within six months and remained married for 64 years.

Albert J. Schiro, co-owner with his brother, Sidney, of Standard Shoe store, moved his bride to Bangor where he and Ida soon started a family.

“Standard Shoe was a real family business,” said Connie Kelsey, Ida’s daughter. “Most of the family worked, at one time or another, at the store, including me and my brother, Lawrence.” There were five Standard Shoe stores in Maine, three being in Bangor. They are a part of local history and full of memories, but not just for the family.

I remember my best friend (then and now), Debbie, and I would pace, with the utmost discretion, past the entrance of the Bangor Mall store. The object of my high school crush, who also happened to be Deb’s cousin, worked there. My only hope was to steal a glimpse of him, while praying he did not spot me.

While the stores were booming, Ida raised the family. She was active in her community, including being president of the Sisterhood of Beth Israel, and was a member of a variety of auxiliary groups.

She played golf and although confesses she “wasn’t very good at it,” loved to play nonetheless. While her needlepoint skills are prize worthy, music remained her passion. She often would sit at the piano and entertain her children.

She clearly hasn’t lost her touch, as was evidenced by the brief rendition of “Hello Dolly” performed for her guest.

So how does Ida keep that twinkle in her eye, and just what is her secret for longevity?

“I love life. You have to have a contented, happy mind. You can’t brood over things,” she said. “You have to realize that every day can’t be a good day. And you need to keep yourself moving, keep active – you can’t sit in a rocking chair. I get out every day I can.”

Ida also credits healthy eating.

“I have soup every day, all kinds of soup. And no rich desserts, and I don’t eat potato chips,” she said

Ida also has a secret weapon to defy aging.

“I eat grapenut pudding twice a day. Couldn’t be without it,” she said. Gloria, one of four women who are companions to Ida, does most of the cooking. The grapenut pudding recipe is hers, handed down from a 90 year-old woman to whom she was also a companion.

Ida insisted I try the pudding. Being no match for her considerable charm and persistence, I sampled the dish – for research purposes only, of course. The pudding being so delicious, and apparently a testament to healthy aging, Gloria agreed to share the recipe.

Grapenut Pudding

Beat 2 eggs with a fork

Beat in gradually 4 cups milk

Add 1/2 cup sugar and scant (a little extra)

3 tsp. vanilla

1 cup grapenuts

Stir together

Bake at 350 for 1 hour in a 3-qt bowl.

Note: Stir after the first 15 minutes, then again after the second 15 minutes. Take out of oven after 1 hour, even if the center is soft.

The proof is in the pudding. Ida turns 98 on April 14. Happy birthday, Ida.

Carol Higgins is communications director at Eastern Agency on Aging. For information on EAA, call 941-2865 or log on www.eaaa.org.

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