Interview with Lillian Spier

On Jan 23, the JCC celebrated Lillian Spier’s 100th birthday in style! The party started with a special edition of the Armchair Aerobics class, followed by an adorable performance by our 100+ early childhood kiddos singing “Happy Birthday.” Lillian’s bright blue eyes lit up with joy, and it was wonderful to see.

Lauren Saltus, Fitness and Wellness General Manager, sat down with Lillian and to learn about what has kept her so young.

Tell us a little about your childhood.
Growing up in Brooklyn, I had a very happy childhood. Some of my happiest memories were from my time spent at sleepaway camp, which I started at 8 years old. The camp was in the Adirondacks, and I can remember taking the train all the way up there. I loved making friends at camp and all of the social experiences.

I missed going to kindergarten because I had rheumatic fever when I was 6 years old. Because of it, I missed an entire year of school. At that time, we also discovered I had a slight heart murmur.

Tell us about your eating habits.
I have always enjoyed eating healthy foods, and I have a healthy appetite. I eat very little sweets because I just never developed a taste for them. I do enjoy a drink every night before dinner. Just one. It gives me a sense of wellbeing and relaxes me.

Has Fitness always been part of your life?
When I was in college, I had a strong interest in modern dance and started taking classes there. I graduated from Hunter College in 1941 with a degree in Sociology. I worked as a social worker and helped resettle the displaced people arriving from camps. After my children were born I went back to school to get my teaching certificate.

I did not know of any formal fitness classes until the 1960s or 1970s. I started taking classes at that time.

When I was in my 40s, I became more aware of the importance of fitness and a healthy lifestyle. My husband had a heart attack at age 43. After that, we both got serious about living a more active life. We enjoyed walking and we joined a fitness club. Because my husband was already a good customer at the cardiologist, I became a patient as well. My doctor was always pleased with my results because I kept up with exercise.

What is your fitness routine like today?
I take the Armchair Aerobics class on Mondays and Thursdays with Rafael. On Tuesdays I take Active Adults in Motion with Cecile, and on Wednesdays I take Chair Yoga with Marina, and Tai Chi with Barrie with I can on Fridays, I also do some of the machines in the Fitness and Wellness Center. I especially like going into the Women Fitness Center, where I do some exercises with free weights.

I also enjoy the camaraderie among all of my friends at the JCC. I have met women along the way who seem anxious about starting exercise and looking for friendships. I have made many friends at the JCC. We often have lunch together at the cafe. It’s great food, run by a great organization in Jewish Family Services (JFS). I also volunteer once a month at the Rhoda Bloom Food Pantry, which is also run by JFS.

Do you have a philosophy that you live by?
I have always seen myself as a cup half full type of person, instead of a cup half empty person. There is a word that Gloria Steinem used in one of her plays: hope-aholic. I have always identified with that word. Exercise energizes me. Since I am a hope-aholic, it makes me feel good, and I enjoy it.