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Great-grandma celebrates 108th birthday in Vancouver

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In most families, ringing in a 100th birthday is a massive milestone.

Minni Pelman’s family certainly thinks so – as they celebrated her 108th birthday in the park outside her building Saturday.

“Every year we’re just amazed she’s still here and still content and happy,” said her granddaughter, Tamara Levy. “She just totally lives in the moment and we hope she’ll be here until 110 – at least! Maybe more!”

Many family members joined the party celebrating the family matriarch, from the youngest great-grandkids to her 102-year-old sister, Sarah Jarvis.

“I was always six years behind you,” Jarvis joked with her older sister as the family wished her a happy birthday. The siblings are still close, living across the street from each other.

“Keep going as well as you’re doing, honey, you’re doing great,” she said.

Pelman was born in Vancouver on June 8, 1916.

Her family describes Pelman as a kind, caring woman, and shared a beautiful love story between her and her husband.

The pair met when she was 14, and when asked about her great love, Pelman perked up: “We met, that was it; there was nobody else for either of us.”

Her daughter, Gayle Swain, describes her parents as “bashert,” the Yiddish word for ‘destiny’ or two people meant to be.

“She lived across the lane from my dad,” Swain explained. “My dad would come over and ask her to phone her girlfriends so he would date them. Then one time he came … she said ‘Who do you want me to call?’, he said, ‘I’m here for you.’”

The two dated, but both their parents were against them getting married. So they eloped, and six months later Pelman’s parents agreed to their union and the couple had a religious ceremony.

It’s not the only time Pelman was a little mischievous.

She always wanted to become a nurse, but her mother wouldn’t let her. Eventually she became a neonatal unit clerk at Vancouver General Hospital.

But in order to get the job, Pelman had to fib about her age.

“When she (turned) 75, which they thought she was 65, they told her she had to retire,” her daughter, Jarvis, laughed. “She had been working for 10 years past what she should have been.”

So what is the key to a long life?

Pelman’s answer: “Just enjoy everything, that’s the secret to a happy life, just enjoy everything.”

Meanwhile, her granddaughter has a different theory.

“You would think that maybe she held the secret to longevity and we should do what she does to stay old, but she never really exercised much, she never ate particularly well,” Levy said.

“I think she just has some good genetics, and the fact she has a sister that’s 102, there must be some genetics in there.”

Levy’s daughter, and Pelman’s great-granddaughter, is one of the youngest in the family. “It’s a bit surreal,” said Juliette Levy-Gay.

“I forget a lot of the time that every single one of the people here is her descendant (and they) all came from her.”

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