Bristolian slows down to celebrate milestone birthday

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On Saturday, Feb. 22, Jean (Pagano) Marszalek sat among 25 friends and neighbors from her North Farm community who threw a party at Redlefsen’s restaurant in her honor.

“This is my third party,” she said. “I have another on Thursday, then three more. Don’t forget, I’m a hundred.”

But, she said, she doesn’t consider herself a “party girl.”

“That’s my sister,” she said of her 81 year-old sibling. “She’s the baby.”

While lately she’s more likely to be found playing bridge or reading novels, sometimes “a book a day” she said, written by some of her favorite authors – Nicholas Sparks, James Patterson and Kristin Hannah among them - the flurry of get-togethers is not without reason. On Thursday, Feb. 27, the vivacious Bristolian celebrates her 100th birthday.

“When they realized I was getting old, they figured it was time, I guess,” she said.

In 1914, the centenarian was born inside her grandmother’s house on Wood Street, “across from St. Elizabeth’s, before moving to Cooke Street in town.

Ms. Marszalek recalled fondly her days in the high school Class of 1931 where, according to a proclamation presented to her by Town Administrator Tony Teixeira, she was an Honor Society member and liked to dance.

“I had forgotten all that,” she said after Mr. Teixeira read a page from her high school yearbook.

Over the span of her 100 years, Ms. Marszalek looked back for a moment to share her experiences, first as a junior high school teacher at Guiteras School, then in her days spent traveling the world.

“I’ve been to Italy twice, London, Paris, Germany, Turkey, Jerusalem, Egypt, Greece, China and Alaska,” she recounted her journeys. “I’m glad I did what I did.”

Her North Farm condo is decorated with paintings and needlepoint done by her in the years passed.

She settled in Florida for several years, but moved back to Bristol when the North Farm development was being built. And although she has witnessed many changes over the course of her life, she has kept up with it all, including her new cell phone she keeps for emergencies when she drives.

“It’s changed,” she said of society. “You change along with it.”

But she had no advice to give on longevity or keeping a positive attitude. For her it’s just natural.

“If I knew, I’d write a book and make a lot of money,” she said. “What’s the fuss? Old age isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. It is what it is. You put up with it,” she joked.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.