Goodman celebrates 100 years of a life well lived

Miriam Goodman turns 100 Saturday. Photo by Eve Edelheit.

Jennifer Shore | Staff Writer

In 1911, there were no television sets, world wars or crossword puzzles. News radio programs weren’t being broadcasted. Penicillin hadn’t accidentally been discovered yet. Instant coffee was a new commodity. It was a year that began on a Sunday and ended without national crisis. On Aug. 27, 1911, Miriam Goodman was born.

When interviewed for this story earlier in the season, the fact that her 100th birthday was quickly approaching didn’t seem to bother the Chautauquan of more than 25 years. In fact, Miriam is quite content sitting on her front porch and “watching the world go by.”

With four generations of family running around the house to get to Club, Children’s School and the Everett Jewett Life Center at Chautauqua, she has a lot to watch.

“As you age, what is the most important thing in your life? Family,” Miriam said.

In a somewhat unusual order, Miriam’s daughter Lynn Moschel, who currently is the Children’s School librarian, arrived at the Institution and purchased a condo before Miriam and her husband, Joel, visited the grounds. Originally, Miriam and Joel only came to Chautauqua to golf in the off-season, until Lynn encouraged the pair to join the family during the nine-week season.

Joel, who died in 2005, once said, “Chautauqua is the best-kept secret in the United States.”

Miriam now stays in the family home for the entire summer, and she is involved with many activities around the grounds.

She is an avid bridge player, which is something she didn’t pass on to Lynn in the gene pool.

Miriam insisted, “It’s something you have to learn by playing it.”

Although she won’t be playing the card game anytime soon, Lynn did inherit her love of reading and the arts from her mother.

“My mother took me to the library at a very young age and started me on my love for books,” Lynn said. “I think it was part of the reason I became a librarian.”

Years ago, through the Library of Congress, Miriam used her love of reading to tape recordings of books for the blind to enjoy, but that is just a small part of her volunteer work.

“She was a big volunteer; I remember that more than anything growing up,” Lynn said. “She was always involved with the PTA, or the Temple Sisterhood, and Children’s Theater.”

At Chautauqua, the family reaches out to help the opera students through the Adopt an Artist program, and the opera students get to spend time getting to know the entire family — especially Miriam, and she has more reasons than the present to love the opera.

Miriam’s mother had an opera collection of 78 discs for the phonograph, and Miriam saw Hansel and Gretel when she was a child.

“It took a while, but the older I get, the more I like opera,” Miriam said.

“She goes to all the opera stuff — even the late-night cabaret; she’s the one that goes over on her little scooter,” Lynn said.

When the Artsongs were at the Athenaeum Hotel, Miriam was able to attend every performance, but this year, they are spread all over the grounds, which made it difficult for her to attend.

“She misses those Artsongs, and one of the accompanists felt so bad; we brought her over to the opera center, and they sang part of their recital for her,” Lynn said. “I mean, that’s how great they’ve been to her.”

Because the opera season is done for the summer, the students and staff will not be here for Miriam’s birthday party, so they had their own special way of celebrating.

“They invited our family to come to a cast party, and they had a big cake for her, and they sang ‘Happy Birthday,’ which was one of the most glorious things,” Lynn said.

Miriam doesn’t consider her life to be anything out of the ordinary; she said she had a “normal childhood,” which included going to grammar school, high school and college.

“Well, in those days, that wasn’t so normal — for women to go to college,” Lynn said.

“Well, I graduated in 1934, which was the Depression,” Miriam said.

“She had a degree in economics,” Lynn said. “There weren’t many jobs in the Depression.”

“Not home economics — plain economics,” Miriam said with a laugh.

Throughout her schooling, Miriam was “very athletic,” but she picked up a new hobby for an unconventional reason.

“I played golf, because my father didn’t have a son, and he played golf, and he wanted someone to play with, so I was the oldest, and I was picked,” she said.

Years before teaching her to play golf, Miriam’s father spent time with his family in a very different way: trying to get them away from Germany during World War I. Her father, who is from a large family, tried to get as many relatives as he could out of the country.

“My father was one of nine or 10 and came from Hanover and brought two sisters willing to come and a younger brother, but the others didn’t want to come, and unfortunately, they got caught,” Miriam said.

During that time, Miriam and her parents were living in Winnipeg, Canada.

“They were basically run out of Canada, because this was World War I, and it wasn’t a good time to be German or Jewish,” Lynn said. “It was more the German.”

“When the Canadian soldiers came back, they weren’t very happy to see a German being very successful in Winnipeg,” Miriam said.

After leaving Canada, Miriam’s family moved to Milwaukee, and after college, she worked in the timekeepers’ office of a department store. Joel came up from New Jersey, met Miriam — who was his boss’s daughter — and got married on Jan. 1, 1941.

Now, Miriam has four grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren, and they all will be here to celebrate her birthday.

Lynn remembers more than a decade ago when Miriam was waiting to turn 90 years old — the age Chautauquans get a free gate pass. Miriam had counted down to the years she would be eligible, and now it has been 10 years.

“How did I get there so fast?” Miriam said. “It’s very hard to realize that so many years have passed, and I know exactly what I’ve done all those years, but you can’t believe how time really flies.”