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The Lifeline

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My Great Aunt Syl

Featured Photo from My Great Aunt Syl

On the heels of her 100th birthday, Longwood resident Sylvia Hall sits down with her niece – LML’s associate editor Georgia Fojo to reflect on her life.

Sylvia Hall – or Aunt Syl, to me – has quietly watched the world change over a century of time, but one factor has remained the same: her approach to living a good, simple life. A few days after Hurricane Irma left destruction in its wake, I stopped by for a visit and found Sylvia sitting on the back porch, reading in peace without electricity. It was as if the storm that had turned many of our lives upside down was already a thing of the past. That’s my Aunt Syl for you – she gets on with it.

“People always ask me what my secret to living such a long life is, and I hate to repeat myself, but I always say the same thing: take life one day at a time and do everything in moderation,” Sylvia says. “To be honest, turning 100 doesn’t feel any different. I still have my health and my family, and that’s everything I could ever want.”

A native of small-town Bristol, Rhode Island, Sylvia was born into an Italian-American family in August 1917 and grew up with four sisters. She recalls that her family was one of the first in the neighborhood to have both a car and a telephone. In those days, women were expected to marry young, but after high school, Sylvia attended secretarial school at Johnson & Wales University. Her teachers were the university’s original founders, Gertrude Johnson and Mary Wales.

While working a job as a sales clerk during World War II, Sylvia met her husband, Maurice, at a club one night. He was in the U.S. Coast Guard and happened to be stationed at a private home two doors down from Sylvia. All it took was one question, “Can I walk you home?”, to kick off a whirlwind courtship. After six weeks of dating, Maurice was discharged from service and returned to his hometown in Minnesota. Weeks later, Sylvia received a diamond ring in the mail. They married six months later.

“We wrote back and forth, and through the letters, we decided we’d get engaged,” Sylvia says with a reminiscing smile. “I know, it was very quick!”

Sylvia and Maurice built their lives together in Hollywood, Florida, until his death in 1988. Sylvia recently moved to Longwood to be closer to family and live with her younger sister Patricia (my grandmother). Their older sister Genevieve is doing well at 103 years old and lives on her own in Rhode Island. 

Sylvia says a good, simple life isn’t without its hard times. She lost her eldest sister to cancer, her husband to Alzheimer’s, and her only child to a heart attack.

“I’ve had to be very strong and independent, especially all those years living by myself in Hollywood,” Sylvia recalls.“Thankfully, I take it in my stride. Life’s gotta go on. Sometimes you wonder how you went through it, and you’re still standing.”

Save for some minor aches and pains, Sylvia stands at a petite 4-feet, 11-inches tall and keeps her mind sharp by devouring mystery novels and staying on top of current events. Her days are routine and punctuated with lots of family events, which she loves.

“I enjoy a simple life and have always been a content person, so perhaps that’s the secret – just live a clean and moderate life!”

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