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Elmhurst resident Helen Sokol turns 100

Born in 1922 in Nanticoke, Penn., Helen Sokol eventually moved to Queens as a young woman to spearhead her life, career, and family.
Now, Sokol celebrates 100 years of life and nearly 80 years of calling Queens home.

Her friends at AARP Elmhurst Rego Park Chapter 2889 organized a birthday celebration for her, in which representatives of local elected officials and other community members attended.

Sokol, whose family came from Slovakia, lived with relatives in Middle Village when she first moved to the city in the 1940s.

She later moved into a one bedroom apartment in Elmhurst, after she married her husband, Emil.

The Sokols had three sons: Emil, Thomas and Edward, and two grandchildren: Katie and Brian.

Edward Sokol, who owns Ace Wine & Liquor on Grand Avenue in Elmhurst, said that his mother is known for many things, but most notably, she’s known as a hard worker.

Before she had children, Sokol worked in communications for American Airlines at LaGuardia Airport. She was also heavily involved with different trade publications, including Billboard.

“Even though she only had a high school diploma at that point, she was able to work herself up and become involved with different publications,” her son, Edward said.

“She was a hard worker from the day she started, to the day that she retired,” he continued. “I could celebrate her every day.”
People also remarked upon her sense of humor and love of swing music and dance.

In celebration of this milestone, New York City Councilman Robert Holden, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, NYS Senator Joseph Addabbo, NYS Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards presented Sokol with various certificates.

As for her secret to a long, healthy life, Sokol said she made sure to always keep busy and surround herself with people who make her feel young.

“A big part of my life was taking care of my mother who had health problems, and then my husband. But I always dealt with young people,” Sokol said.

“I never heard people complain about their aches and pains and things like that, so I never knew what to expect,” she continued. “As long as you’re around young people, you’re curious. And the young people I worked with accepted me as one of their own… as long as you’re feeling young, that’s what matters.”

Celebrating another year, this time in person

Last May, a group of us gathered in front of Eleanor Shannon’s house on 84th Street in Woodhaven to wish her a happy 99th birthday.
It was the scary early days of the pandemic and we were masked, gloved and so socially distant we had to speak loudly to make sure she heard us sing “Happy Birthday.”
At the end of the gathering, we all promised that we’d gather again in a year to wish her a happy 100th birthday. That’s no small vow to make in the midst of a worldwide pandemic, the end of which was nowhere in sight.
And yet, there we were a year later on 84th Street, singing to Eleanor on her 100th birthday and gathering a few days later with family and friends to celebrate her centennial.
Eleanor Shannon was born to Catherine and Edward Shannon in Greenpoint, and lived for a time in Howard Beach. After her father’s tragic passing at an early age, her family moved to Woodhaven. That was in 1933 and she’s called it home ever since.
Her first home in Woodhaven was on 80th Street, and she remembers a neighborhood with streets so lined with trees you could walk an entire block on a sunny day and not leave the shade.
She worked for a time as a bookkeeper in a chemical company, where she met her future husband, George Errante. But before they got married, there was a little matter of a Second World War to get past.
Upon his return from service 36 months later, Eleanor and George were married and soon had two children, Robert and Lorraine.
Eleanor began getting involved in our community volunteering in numerous organizations dedicated to the interests of local children, such as the Cub Scouts, Girl Scouts, and The Mother’s Club of St. Thomas the Apostle, to name a few.
She has been a regular member of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association from the beginning, and she also got involved in local politics, eventually becoming a district leader, a position she held for decades.
And in 2011, Eleanor Errante was honored by the WRBA as Woodhaven’s Woman of the Year, an honor that was as much for her lifetime contribution to our community as it was for her current and ongoing activities.
“Eleanor is an outstanding example of a community-focused individual, fighting on behalf of her community and the 38th Assembly District for over half a century,” said then-assemblyman Mike Miller.
And she’s not done fighting. In recent years, Eleanor was an outspoken critic of the city as they stood by and allowed a derelict building to shut down both our local volunteer ambulance corps and our senior center.
In 1994, at the age of 93, Eleanor led a rally blasting the city for actions harmful to our community.
Eleanor didn’t let her age stop her then and she doesn’t let it stop her these days either. In fact, it took a world pandemic to keep Eleanor inside.
Steve Forte, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, says that Eleanor has been and still is an “unbelievable leader fighting for her neighborhood.”
Janet Forte said the one thing most people don’t know about Eleanor is that she has a terrific sense of humor.
“She absolutely hysterical, a funny lady who always says exactly what’s on her mind, but always sweet and caring and complimentary,” she said.
Sure enough, at this past weekend’s party, she was joking around with her friends and family and making them laugh. And with the recent announcements from the CDC and the rules and guidelines loosening up quite a bit, it was easy to laugh and have fun in a group setting again.
It was easy to look around the room and see faces, actual faces, smiling and laughing and realize that things were going to be okay after all.
Eleanor Shannon Errante has lived through some interesting times, and on behalf of all the residents of Woodhaven, we wish her a very happy and healthy 100th birthday and look forward to gathering in front of her house again next May to celebrate her 101st.

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