Leon “Leo” Ditchek celebrated his 100th birthday on Feb. 27 at the Harriett and Ralph Kaplan Estates in Peabody. Leo was the center of attention at the party. It was attended by family members, staff, residents and friends.
Born in the Bronx on February 28, 1920, Leo grew up in a closely-knit family with three sisters. His father passed away when he only six. “We didn’t have a lot of material things growing up,” said Leo, “but we had each other. And my mom was a wonderful cook. Her chicken soup was delicious!”
Leo was trained as a field medic in WWII and then returned to the Bronx after the war. He met Libby Rimland before a dance. As the group was leaving for the dance, Libby tapped Leo on the shoulder and told him to stay. “So,” Leo chuckled, “of course, I stayed.” The rest, as they say, is history: the two fell in love and married nine months later. They were married for 61 years.
Leo worked in sales, and also as a truck driver for the New York City Sanitation Department for 25 years. He retired at the age of 58. Leo and Libby enjoyed living in Sunrise, Florida and then Tamarac, Florida, and later moved to Midland Park, New Jersey, where they spent many hours outdoors each day.
What does Leo attribute to his good health and longevity? To start, he’s a firm believer in exercise. He’s been an avid cyclist, taking long bike trips. It was not unusual for him to go on a 50-mile bike ride and he even completed a century ride, which is a cycling ride of 100 miles. For Leo, healthy eating and clean living are a way of life. But he’s quick to point out fate plays a big part. “Sometimes, It’s just a matter of luck,” he said.
Family is important to Leo. He is blessed with four children, seven grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. The birthday party at Kaplan Estates was followed by a family party the next day at Legal Sea Foods. It was truly a special time for him to have his family members together to celebrate this milestone event.
Judy Ditchek, Leo’s daughter-in-law, is glad that Leo is a resident at Kaplan Estates. “He has his own activities, his own friends and his own life,” said Ditchek. “At the same time, our family feels secure in the knowledge that he is surrounded by a caring and efficient staff who are there if he needs help. It’s really the best of both worlds.”
For Leo, his favorite thing about living in assisted living is his degree of independence. “My greatest achievement today is that at 100 years of age I can live independently, surrounded by people I care about,” said Leo. “The people here are like family to me.”