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Centenarian's secret: cheese, tennis and Sophie (her dog)

Eleanor Rubenstein doesn't let her age (100) get in way of a long, 'lucky' life


by: TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO: L.E. BASKOW - Eleanore Rubinstein reigned as a 90s-division tennis champ, as featured by the Portland Tribune in 2004, and still basks in life - including vacations in Palm Desert, Calif. - with her 100th coming up April 23.She still drives her trusty Lexus SUV with the vanity license plate “ABZGAL,” golfs in warm weather, travels by herself, lives alone in Southwest Portland, lunch-dates nearly every day, knits constantly, exercises in the pool, plays bridge whenever possible and remains as sharp as anybody 50 years old.

Only, Eleanore Rubinstein turns 50 times two on April 23.

Even she can’t explain it. How can somebody reach age 100 and feel the same every day, while everybody around her succumbs to Father Time?

“I’m lucky,” she says. “When you feel good, life goes along beautifully. I can’t take credit for that.

“Your life’s not your own.”

Think about it ... 100 years old. Rubinstein moved to Portland at age 7 in 1920. She attended Irvington School — still recalls teachers’ names — and later graduated from Grant High School in 1931. She lived through World War I, the Roaring ‘20s, the Great Depression, World War II, the space-age era of the 1950s, the counter-culture of the 1960s, the Internet and technology revolution of the past 30 years, the turn of the century and plenty of Seattle Mariners’ losses.

And, clarity and wit remain to talk about it.

So, what’s the secret? (Yes, it’s only the most obvious question to ask somebody turning 100 years of age).

“There isn’t one,” she says. “Just good luck. I stay up late, going to bed at midnight. I eat everything I want.

“I love cheese. And, I have scotch and soda in the winter, and vodka and whatever in the summer. But, no soda.”

Friends and family have been honoring Rubinstein — lunch dates every day — and an expected gathering of about 200 people will help her celebrate the big 1-0-0 on Saturday, April 20, at Portland Golf Club. A big family get-together takes place on her birthday.

She realizes it’s a big deal, reaching the century mark. She doesn’t have any friends 100 years old.

“No one ever dreams of reaching 100,” she says. “You outlive everybody.

“My whole life has been blessed. My parents were wonderful, my family has been amazing. Friends have been great, and I keep making new ones. I still do everything I want to do.”

Clearly, she stays alive and active, having been a “tomboy” growing up. She used to bowl, giving it up because “my nails grew too long.”

In her 90s, she reigned as two-time champion of the United States Tennis Association 90s division — featured in a Portland Tribune story in December 2004 — and retired only when her legs and back bothered her. A new champion was crowned in 2006, and Rubinstein was confident “that I could have played and won.”

Tennis and golf have been a big part of her life.

It was on the tennis court in 1980 where her husband, having dropped back to serve, collapsed and died. Says Rubinstein: “A wonderful way to go for him, doing what he loved.”

She loved playing tennis with younger women; you know, ladies in their 50s, 60s and 70s. Rubinstein still hits the tennis ball around occasionally — in the backyard to her beloved dachshund, Sophie.

She’ll cart and play on the links at Claremont Golf Club and any time while visiting the Oregon Coast or Palm Desert, Calif., where daughter Diane Koopman lives.

“If I can get the ball off the ground, it’s a good day,” Rubinstein says. “I can still par par-3 holes. I can bogey holes. Never birdie, unless it’s an act of God.”

If ironing boards could talk

Other than volunteering, and working at Oregon Health & Science University for two years — “ I started their mail room,” she says — Rubinstein has enjoyed the luxury of not having to work. She had children — four of them, which has produced seven grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren and hopefully a great-great-grandchild some day — and helped out at her husband’s clothing stores.

Rubinstein lived in Aberdeen, Wash., from the early 1930s to 1959. Her husband, Paul, owned a women’s clothing store. It’s where her children were born, including Richard Rubinstein, the oldest. He’s 78, and a financial adviser, having helped set up his mother for the long haul of living.

A person could run out of money living to 100, or be dependent on Social Security and Medicare, but not Rubinstein, “not if you have a son like I have. ... He has a firm belief in the stock market.”

And, Medicare? Rubinstein says she hasn’t needed much medical care, beyond routine checkups — she did have knee reconstruction surgery more than 40 years ago, and beat colon cancer in 1997. “Having lived as long as I have, and I’m able to avoid the problems other faced? I’ve been lucky,” she says.

A person reaching 100 might be toting some emotional baggage, but not Rubinstein.

Regrets?

“Not really,” she says.

Angry?

“Well, I used to iron, and if my ironing board could talk ...”

She adds: “I don’t get frustrated. I don’t expect things I can’t get.”

Being an only child, Rubinstein has always relished her independence. She sees friends using walkers and wheelchairs and admits, “it’ll come for me, like everything else. My balance isn’t great.”

But, “it’ll be good. Like everything else, I’ll take it. I’m always planning for what’s coming next.”