Resilience and a boundless passion for living life to the fullest are some of the qualities possessed by Elsie Bierbaum (nee Fisher), a resident at Stein Assisted Living in Somerset.
Born in Newark in 1920, she recalls being one of 10 children (two sisters and seven brothers) as a wonderful experience because she was so close to them.
“It was the best time of my life,” she said. “We were a very close-knit family. My mother was a marvelous cook and everyone in the neighborhood – no matter what background they came from, black or white, just came over and sat down and ate with us.” Even the mayor was a guest for lunch and dinner from time to time.
One of Elsie’s brothers was a professional boxer and another was a lightweight boxing champ.
“They did a lot of work during their free time for a boys’ league teaching coins, stamps, boxing,” she remembered.
One of Elsie’s favorite memories was when her brother taught her how to tap dance and they entered a talent contest together in Newark, where she captured an award and became acquainted with her future husband, Al Birnbaum, who was an usher at the competition.
Elsie and Al had two daughters – Marci, who is an art teacher in Manhattan, and sadly, another daughter who passed away from Crohn’s disease.
Elsie’s childhood home was always buzzing with activity, especially when cousins would visit from Massachusetts. One of those cousins, whom she hadn’t heard from in approximately 50 years, recently reconnected with her through a nephew over Facebook. They anticipate reuniting soon.
“I stay busy with email and all of my family’s children keep me very busy,” she shared
Elsie recalled enjoying English and history during her school years. She also competed in sports such as basketball, handball, baseball and track. During a statewide meet, she was awarded a gold medal which she has kept to this day.
“I loved to run a lot and my brother coached me,” she said, adding that broad jumping was also a passion.
Her love for athletics has endured. Although her grandson manages evening games for the New York Mets, she is an ardent fan of the New York Yankees, especially retiring player Derek Jeter, whom she calls “a legend.”
Elsie demonstrated admirable leadership skills early on when she was elected the first female vice president at her school. She recalls enjoying every aspect of her responsibilities as school vice president.
“I was very active in school and all of the teachers and faculty were behind me. I knew a lot of the children who attended. I had a wonderful school life,” she said, adding that she would lead the student body in prayer and introduce the guest speakers at the auditorium while making sure everything went smoothly and timely.
During her last year of schooling, she earned the title of first-ever female student body president. As she served in her post, she gained the admiration of the Newark mayor who gave her a tour of Newark and presented her with a book entitled, “My America.”
Impressed by her leadership and skills, her school principal offered her a scholarship to any college she desired, which she politely declined at that time to start her own living right away in the workforce. The principal recommended her to be hired at Prudential, where she became employed in the cash surrender department.
After the birth of her daughters, she became a stay-at-home mother, but returned to the workforce after they were old enough, becoming a physician’s assistant and receptionist.
Another event in Elsie’s life that taught her the importance of being courageous and resilient surfaced when her brother, David Fisher, volunteered to go to war where he entertained the troops with a Charlie McCarthy doll. During his last night in North Africa, he was driving with his colonel when their car was under siege and he was killed. A plaque is erected in his honor in Newark.
“He was a wonderful entertainer and a marvelous brother,” said Elsie, who was the one to receive the telegram informing about her brother’s death. “I was in such shock. I called my brothers up to tell them. I remember that my mother got into bed and just couldn’t move. But then she realized, ‘I can’t do this to my family. I have to show them that we all have to be together in this terrible situation and pull together.”
Proud to be a resident at Stein Assisted Living, she said that there is never a dull moment and she relishes all of the opportunities to stay active.
One of her favorite recent activities at Stein was the Alzheimer’s Walk early in September, during which she enjoyed being part of an awareness activity that makes a difference in the lives of others.
“Even though I have a bad knee and have had some injections, I enjoyed participating,” said Elsie, adding that she appreciates having round-the-clock staff and attention to her needs at Stein.
A resident who welcomes everyone with a smile, Elsie lives her life according to two mottos: “Smile, and the world will smile with you”, and “I don’t count my birthdays, I count my blessings!”
“I have to think twice how old I am,” she joked.
The Oscar and Ella Wilf Campus for Senior Living is comprised of Stein Assisted Living Residence, the Jaffa Gate Memory Care Neighborhood, Stein Hospice, Wilentz Senior Residence, Wilf Transport, Wilf At Home, and The Foundation at the Wilf Campus. For more information, contact us at (732) 568-1155, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us at www.wilfcampus.org.