Part one of an ongoing series.
Hazel Reukauf was an English teacher at Glen Cove Middle School for 27 years. Asked about her students, she smiled broadly. “I was the happiest person in the school,” she said, her blue eyes smiling, too. “I never had any bad experiences with anyone. The children liked me, and I liked them.”
She celebrated her 100th birthday on May 26, a milestone that she equates with “being lucky.” It doesn’t appear to matter to her that her memories are a bit fuzzy. She is content, smiles easily and appears interested in the conversations of others that swirl around her. Once in a while she will look away to watch the birds as they feast from the feeder outside a nearby window in her home. That’s because the birds, she says, make her happy. She likes the cardinals the best.
Having mothered four children she is a grandmother to 11 and a great-grandmother to 13. And another great-grandchild will be born soon. She is still living in the Glen Cove home that she and her husband, Bill, moved to 67 years ago,
She was born in Brooklyn to Jack O’Connell, a lawyer and a professor at Columbia University, and Hazel, a homemaker. Their daughter might have remained there had she not met Bill Reukauf. Three children later and pregnant with a fourth child the Reukaufs moved to Silver Spring Maryland in 1946, because Bill had been offered a job.
It was another job transfer that led the couple to Dosoris Woods in Glen Cove. “They weren’t sure where to move, but Mom’s brother was the editor of Cosmopolitan magazine and he recommended Glen Cove, saying it was a good place to raise a family,” said Barbara Hedwig, 71, her daughter, who also lives in Glen Cove. “I heard that that year the houses from this neighborhood were on the cover of Better Homes and Gardens.”
Reukauf said her oldest memory is when she moved to Glen Cove. “I liked the weather in Glen Cove and spent the whole summer at Crescent Beach,” she says. Then she stops talking, perhaps to continue the memory on her own.
The couple became involved in the community. Bill coached Little League, and Hazel became active at St. Patrick’s Church in the Mothers’ Club. Hedwig said her mom would like to attend Mass now, but it is difficult. She tore her quadricap in 2015 when she fell in her home and now depends on a wheelchair to get around.
Bill died in 1967, leaving Hazel a widow at age 47. She continued to teach, but also began a new chapter in her life, becoming an avid traveler. With her many friends, she vacationed abroad to China, England, Whales, Italy and Ireland. Some countries, like Italy, she visited twice.
She was also a golfer and played until she was 89. And she had a gym membership at the YMCA in Glen Cove until five years ago. “She took Silver Sneakers exercise classes and swam too at the Y,” Barbara said. “That was before she fell.”
These days, Hazel remains as active as she can be. Every day she watches “Jeopardy” and soap operas. She reads The New York Times too. But what she looks forward to most is a nightly visit from Hedwig, to share in an evening cocktail. Her favorite drink is bourbon and water.
“Mom has always been a happy-go- lucky, nice mother,” Hedwig said. “She wasn’t the warm and fuzzy type. She was practical.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree from St. Joseph College, which at the time was unusual for a woman to do. When she decided to pursue a master’s from Hofstra, her children were young, a decision that was also uncommon.
Reukauf has served as a role model for her daughter. “Because my mom could do it — go to college and raise a family, I knew I could go later in life,” Hedwig said. “I became a registered nurse and was the school nurse in Carle Place for 27 years. I retired in 2016.”
Hedwig will always remember her mother’s dedication to the English language. “She was a wonderful grammar teacher and big on diagraming sentences,” she said. “At the dinner table, she would correct anyone, even someone we brought home for the first time to meet the family. ‘That’s the object of a preposition,’ she’d say.” Then Barbara looked at her mother who was smiling and smiled too.
Do you know a North Shore centenarian? Contact Laura Lane at email@example.com for inclusion in this series.