OLEAN — The delivery of 103 beautiful roses was one of the highlights for Helen Swift Monday as she celebrated her 103rd birthday in the company of residents and staff at Eden Heights of Olean.
Swift, who was born May 18, 1917, was treated to a private, socially-distant party that included cake, balloons and singing at the assisted living and memory care facility.
Kelly Wilkins, executive director, said visitors and relatives were unable to join the celebration due to the pandemic, but Swift enjoyed the event nonetheless. She also was contacted and congratulated by her relatives by phone.
“They’re having some cake and we’re presenting her with 103 roses and singing happy birthday” to her, Wilkins said of Swift.
April Kilbourn, Eden Heights’ activity director, Swift was born in Marshfield, Mo. to Jesse Paul and Rosa Galbraith Milhauser. She was the second of two children; her sister was named Nadine. When Swift was 2 1/2 years old, she and her family moved to the Cuba area, where she lived throughout her childhood and adult years until she moved into Eden Heights.
Swift and her sister attended a one-room schoolhouse in the Farnsworth area and she started eighth grade at Cuba’s forme secondary school — she was a part of the last graduating class before the school was moved.
After graduating, Swift trained at Buffalo Beauty school, which was located in the community where she met her future husband, Paul. The two married on Nov. 22, 1939, and eventually had two children, Mary Schwartz of Pensacola, Fla. and Donn Swift of Henderson, N.C.
Paul Swift worked at an industry job for years while his wife began her hairdresser career. She worked for Doris Schyler, but in 1947 opened her own shop on Stevens Avenue.
Kilbourn said that as a young mother of two children, Swift worked tirelessly to keep her home, her business and her family running smoothly. She was a den leader for Cub Scouts and an active member of Cuba First Baptist Church. In fact, she is the oldest living member of the church, Kilbourn said.
Swift worked out of her home as a beautician as she raised her family. She continued to work through the years past retirement age. When her loyal customers and friends grew old and were unable to come to her, she went to them until she was in her 80s. She finally retired in 2000.
It was noted that during their younger years, Swift and her husband purchased an old farm, where they built a log cabin home and loved time spent at their “camp” with their family and friends. They also enjoyed traveling, taking trips to Aruba, Cancun and a memorable bus trip through the Western states which were on her list.
As her husband’s health declined, she cared for him and gradually took over his jobs until his death in 2007. They had been married for 68 years.
When Swift was asked what she attributed her long life to, she said a good attitude and hard work has been her philosophy throughout life. She also passed this along to her children and grandchildren.