By Jano Tantongco
Sitting down with her grandmother on her 100th birthday, granddaughter Vania Milan asked Beatrice Halperin what was her secret. Together, they thought about it, and came up with an answer.
“I think she always did what she wanted to do,” said Milan, of Dix Hills. “She’s a beautiful firecracker.”
Halperin recently returned to New York to stay with Milan after living in Florida for 40 years. On Sept. 15, she celebrated her 100th birthday and recounted some of the memories she’s accrued throughout her life.
At 100 years old, Halperin is quick on her feet and shows no signs of slowing down. She is still as agile as she was in her mambo-dancing days.
She grew up in Brooklyn, roller skating to elementary school each day. After she graduated, she found work while her late siblings, Rose and Horace, went on to higher education.
At age 14, Halperin interviewed with the Sterling Button Company to work sewing buttons. Her interviewer asked an attendant to get her a scissors, needle and a thread so she could showcase her skills. But, Halperin told him that she already had a set in her pocket book. Her preparedness immediately won her the job.
Later, she was told to call for a new girl to operate the Burroughs Bookkeeping Machine, a typewriter-looking mechanism used for accounting.
She told her boss, “You don’t have to call anybody. I can work that machine.”
Her boss, incredulous, went to ask the office manager if this was true. He verified it, and once again, Halperin showed off her skills to move up the ladder.
While working there, she met her first husband David Udinsky, who is the father of her daughter, Phyllis Nicole Udinsky.
“All the girls liked him, and you grabbed him,” Udinsky said to her mother. “He was a very good guy, but he was a home person and she wanted an exciting life.”
Some 20 years later, the couple divorced.
Eventually, Halperin made her way to the Roseland Ballroom, where she met the late Harold Halperin, the man Beatrice knew to be the “Mambo King” of the ballroom.
“When he saw me come up another time he was dancing with somebody. And, he saw me come up there, he dropped her on the floor,” she said as she laughed. “We fell in love, and we got married.”
Together, they spent half of the year in Florida and the other half in Acapulco, Mexico. They were happily married for 35 years. Harold died 15 years ago.
Looking back on her life, Beatrice found no particular tricks to making it to 100. She smoked from age 13, up until she turned 65. Her granddaughter said she ate a sizable steak when she wanted to.
Though, she thinks her taste in root vegetables may have helped her health.
She said, “Anything I eat, I slice onions in it.
“And, I think that is doing a lot for my brain.”