Woman celebrates 100th birthday at workplace

 
Astrid Thoenig celebrates her 100th birthday while working as the receptionist for the Thornton Agency in Parsippany, New Jersey, on Thursday. APThoenig was interrupted by a steady stream of deliverymen bringing bouquets, chocolate-dipped strawberries and stacks of cards to the Thornton Insurance Co in Parsippany where she has been answering phones, keeping financial records, handling payroll and typing up documents for more than 30 years.

“It is another day — it is hard to explain,” Thoenig said of turning 100. “I don’t feel old, and I don’t think old.”

Born on September 24, 1909, in Bloomfield, New Jersey, Thoenig’s earliest memories start in 1918, when she witnessed something so traumatic: “It erased all memories of my childhood before that.”

“I remember coming down the stairs from my bedroom and saw these two coffins in the living room: one white, for my sister, and the other for the grown person,” she said, recalling how the flu pandemic of 1918 killed her father and her 10-year-old sister within hours of one another. “To see my father and sister — of all the things I can’t remember —that’s very vivid in my mind.”

Thoenig, her remaining sister, and her mother also were infected but survived. Her mother lived until 101 and her sister, who suffered permanent hearing loss from the illness, was 95 when she died.

As Thoenig turns 100, her grandson, 43-year-old Peter Thornton, said she couldn’t have picked a better era.

“If you had to pick a dramatic century to live, it has to be Astrid’s,” he said. “The invention of the automobile and the airplane, television and computers, the moon landing and two world wars. 1780 to 1880 would have seen changes from a musket to a rifle.”

‘Thinking young’

Thoenig says “thinking young” has helped her take a century’s worth of technological changes in stride. The daughter of Swedish immigrants, she credits her strong constitution, a wonderful family and getting up every day to get dressed and go to work with keeping her mind sharp.

Thoenig once sewed all her own clothes and still dresses elegantly, accenting with gold jewellery, colourful glasses and a full head of blond hair that makes her look decades younger. Her strong, agile hands come from a lifetime of typing, knitting and embroidering. Married twice, Thoenig started working shortly after high school, and has held positions at banks, lawyer’s offices and for the borough of Caldwell.

Her current job is her favorite — working alongside her son, John Thornton, and grandson Peter at the family-owned insurance company.

Thoenig credits her son for giving her the job, taking her to work and always being patient. The growing stack of birthday cards may have identical motifs, but the messages inside them each touched her in their own way. She took special delight in a bouquet from her dentist with the message: “This is only the beginning!”

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