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Secret to long life: ‘No smoking, no drinking, no chasing men’

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    Isabelle Yacobenas celebrated her 100th birthday on Friday. DANIELLE DERRICKSON/TIMES NEWS

Published May 13. 2019 12:27PM


Isabelle Yacobenas spent Friday afternoon surrounded by three generations of her descendants.

May 10 was a special day for Yacobenas; it was her 100th birthday. And on that day, she shared a life story worthy of the gathering.

Yacobenas was born in Massachusetts in 1919. She was still a toddler when her family relocated to Lithuania and became the caretakers of her grandparent’s farm.

Concerned with growing tensions in Europe (which was just two years from the start of World War II,) in 1937, Yacobenas’ parents put her on a train to Germany. From there, she crossed the Atlantic Ocean by boat, eventually docking in New York City. She was just 18 years old.

“She said she’d never leave land again after that,” Yacobenas’ granddaughter, Ann Marie Marshall, said.

Yacobenas went to work in a Tamaqua bar owned by her uncle, Adolph Zelonis, who helped fund her journey to America. Just two days into working at the bar, which was located at 50 Mauch Chunk St., she met a man named Joseph. Five years later, in 1942, the two married.

Yacobenas worked in her uncle’s bar for four years. Once she had repaid her debt, she moved back to Massachusetts and started working in a factory, but she was eventually laid off.

In the late 1940s, after Joseph had retired from his service in the Army, he and Yacobenas moved back to the town where they met: Tamaqua. There, they bought a house and raised three children, two girls and one boy.

Joseph died in 1981. Yacobenas keeps a photo of her and her husband on the ledge adjacent to her bed in the Mahoning Valley Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where she has lived since 2015. Yacobenas said she used to crochet, knit and garden, but these days, her favorite pastimes are going outside, reading, watching television and playing bingo.

When asked what’s the secret to living a long life, Yacobenas offered same advice she received from her late husband.

“No smoking, no drinking, no chasing men,” Yacobenas said with a chuckle.


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