With reporters and photographers looking on, Kozak sat in the aviary of the Charles Morris Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, where she lives, and listened as Pittsburgh City Council President Doug Shields read a City Council Proclamation designating Aug. 14 — Kozak’s 110th birthday — as Evelyn Kozak Day.
It was just the beginning; the party is still to come. And what a party it should be. Although undocumented, Kozak is believed to be the oldest person in Pittsburgh, and possibly the oldest Jew in America. While she isn’t the oldest Jew in the world — a title believed to belong to a Swiss woman — Kozak is getting close.
Kozak enjoyed chatting and charming everyone as she awaited Shield’s arrival, working the crowd using wisdom and humor. Kozak talked about the sinking of the Titanic (she was 13) and a photograph of her father with President William Howard Taft at the opening of the first Hebrew Orphan Asylum, and reflected on the good (love) and the bad (liars). She also quoted Shakespeare.
Now back to the party, which will be hosted by the Jewish Association on Aging, Monday, Aug. 10, at 2 p.m. Kozak will be wearing a peach skirt and sweater, a scarf in case it gets chilly, and a beautiful quilted jacket from her granddaughter’s Allure store in Bloomfield. Her salt and pepper hair? She’ll just get a trim. Probably her usual manicure, but maybe a special treat — a facial. Kozak is clearly delighted that family is planning to come from all over to celebrate with her, and most certainly, she will look terrific.
Kozak grew up in New York, one of nine children. Two husbands predeceased her, as did two of her five children. After living in Miami Beach for 50 years, Kozak moved to Pittsburgh when she was 90, to be close to her daughter, Ruth Terner. For most of her years here, Kozak lived in Riverview Towers, where she asserted her claim as Scrabble champ.
Growing up, Kozak’s parents, Katy and Isaac Jacobson, stressed always doing the right thing, and that’s how she lived her life.
“People liked me, I’m grateful for that,” she said.
Besides taking to heart her parents’ advice, Kozak had some additional help in life.
“I know God is with me,” she said. “He has saved me many times and told me what to do.”
Admiration for Oprah kept coming up — Kozak is a big fan of hers. After reading her life story and following her good works around the world, Kozak summed up her respect: Oprah gives of her herself and that’s the best.
“If people would help each other we would have a better world. Help, not harm,” she said.
Once Kozak met Shields, he had a new and enthusiastic fan. When the two started talking, Kozak perked up and they agreed that they had something in common: they are both chatterboxes.
“I can drive somebody crazy with the talking,” Kozak said.
The admiration was mutual. “I can tell from his speech that he will do the right thing,” she said about Shields. For his part, Shields admired Kozak for dispensing with the noise and getting right to the point. Because of her moral compass, he said, “She should have her own TV show.”
After Shields read the proclamation, Kozak responded humbly, “This is more than I deserve, but thank you.”
(Angela Leibowicz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)