By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Life-long Stuyvesant Town resident Bernie Rothenberg’s advice for living to be 100 is not to stress the little things.
“Take everything one day at a time,” he said. “Laugh when you can. All you have to worry about is your health, your family, eating properly. Don’t get aggravated at the unimportant things. And keep the weight off.”
Keeping the weight off is easier for the newly-minted centenarian since he can usually be found knocking golf balls around Playground 3 whenever it’s not snowing. He’s become locally famous for his almost-daily habit, which he’s been practicing in the neighborhood since the turn of the millennium.
Aside from keeping a level head, Rothenberg also partially attributed his longevity to pure luck. A combat engineer who served in the Philippines and Okinawa during World War II, he was a lawyer when he was drafted and he joined the family stationery business when he returned to civilian life.
“They were bombing where I was and a shell landed by us and the guy right next to me was killed but I wasn’t touched,” he said. “Number 158 was the first draft number picked, and mine was the second. I could’ve ended up in the European theater and gotten killed. Sometimes you gotta be lucky.”
Rothenberg’s landmark birthday was on March 1 and he welcomed family, friends and neighbors into his apartment at 624 East 20th Street for a party this past Sunday, although relatives noted that due to his popularity in the community, he’s had multiple parties in the last week.
Friends at the celebration on Sunday attributed the party’s success to Stuy Town resident Richard Remsen and Rothenberg’s aide, Chloe Garcia. Garcia has been living with Rothenberg for the last five years, having moved in the day before Hurricane Sandy hit the community hard in 2012.
Although Remsen was unable to attend the party due to the flu, he still pitched in by picking up balloons to decorate the apartment on the day of and attendees praised Garcia’s eye for decorating and making the apartment festive for the big day.
A number of friends and fellow residents who attended on Sunday had played golf with or had been taught by Rothenberg at some point, and most said that despite their ability with the game, he’s a (mostly) patient teacher.
“Bernie knows I have athletic ability and was good at most sports but I have no aptitude for golf,” said resident Alan Lacher, who has been golfing on the Stuy Town green with Rothenberg for the last 10 years. “He gets a little frustrated with me sometimes but he never gives up.”
In addition to resident golf pro, Rothenberg has become an all-purpose expert for tenants and friends passing through, serving occasionally as a marriage counselor and handing out “advice by the dozen,” he said.
Joan Adelson-Dwyer is also a lifelong Stuy Town resident but only met Rothenberg in the last few years when she was walking her dogs near the playground.
“Having dogs is like having kids,” she said. “It forces you into the community, but in a good way. He’s part of the glue that keeps us together. I don’t play golf but he’s always looking out for new people to talk to.”
Rothenberg, who was born in the Bronx, has been his apartment’s only resident since Stuyvesant Town opened for returning veterans. His building was the last to open on the property and other younger residents like Lacher jokingly compete with Rothenberg about the legitimacy of their residency: Lacher is technically a longer-term resident since his parents moved into their apartment a few months before Rothenberg moved into his.
Although unable to attend the celebration himself, City Councilmember Dan Garodnick sent along a Certificate of Recognition congratulating Rothenberg on making it to the milestone and Stuy Town general manager Rick Hayduk dropped by the festivities early on. Hayduk handed off a proclamation that renamed Playground 3 in honor of Rothenberg, although only for the day.
Rothenberg is full of one-liners that he’s known for among his friends and family. His three grandchildren said that their father, Rothenberg’s late son Richard, was always full of sharp quips and it wasn’t until they started spending more time with their grandfather that they realized where his father got all his jokes.
“We used to think our father was so original until we spent more time with our grandfather and realized they all came from him,” granddaughter Fran Goldschmidt said. “That keeps our father alive for us.”
Aside from the quick wisecracks, Rothenberg also has no shortage of R-rated (sometimes X-rated) jokes.
“All of the great anecdotes about Bernie involved him making comments you can’t print,” Lacher said. “But everyone lets it slide because that’s just Bernie.”