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Belle Sylvester, Freeport library's oldest staffer, to celebrate 100th birthday

Belle Sylvester, who works in the programming and

Belle Sylvester, who works in the programming and publicity department of the Freeport Memorial Library, poses for a portrait at the library Monday, Sept. 22, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

Belle Sylvester plans to celebrate 23 years at her job Monday as coordinator of cultural programming at the Freeport Memorial Library.

The library's oldest staffer will also celebrate her 100th birthday.

"It's no big deal that I'll be 100. A lot of people are doing that," she said during a recent interview at her desk in the library basement. "But that I'm still working, well, that might be unusual."

A violinist who had to quit the instrument when she got a prosthesis in her shoulder 10 years ago, she is still a classical music enthusiast.

"She is a vibrant and elegant person," said Michael D'Innocenzo, a longtime history professor at Hofstra University with a monthly program -- Current Events in Perspective -- at the library.

"She is involved, caring about society and the importance of being informed. She and her good friend Mildred Joseph, with whom she went to Adelphi [University] and who died last year at age 99, were a dynamic duo."

Sylvester received her bachelor's degree in psychology from Adelphi University and a master's in it from Columbia University two years later.

She noted that she studied under and was friendly with Franz Boas, the famous cultural anthropologist and anti-Nazi.

She never used her degrees professionally, marrying her husband, Arnold, in 1934 and raising two children in Freeport, where she has lived since 1950. Her husband, a public relations specialist, died 14 years ago. Her son Robert is in Seattle and daughter Vicki is in Palm Beach, Florida, she said.

Besides her shoulder, Sylvester has overcome numerous illnesses and hospitalizations, D'Innocenzo said. "That's another thing that makes her impressive," he said. "She remains so upbeat, she uplifts people just knowing her."

The classical music component of programming at the library is approved by its community Music Advisory Committee, which Sylvester began.

About a year before she began work at the library, the committee helped bring a program or two to the library, she said. "Now, it helps the library produce two such programs a month on Sundays, except in July and August."

"The director back then [David Opatow] asked me if I'd like to try a job with the library, and, at first, I was a bit reluctant, but the library grew on me. I've come to enjoy it a lot."

Sylvester, who is active in the Democratic Party, has worked with many community organizations, including the Boy Scouts, and she has supported the local school district's Select Choral.

In 2011, she received the Patron of the Arts Award from the Long Island Arts Council.

Sylvester, who in public records is listed at age 94 through 97, said she doesn't know how that happened. "I was born Oct. 6, 1914."

"I don't like to celebrate my birthday anymore," she said. "I try to forget about it."

She said she stopped driving two years ago -- "it got to be too much" -- and now a friend brings her to work in the morning and picks her up at 1 p.m., except for her Sunday events from 1 to 4 p.m.

On her desk was the latest Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. "Like everybody else, once I start reading him, I find it hard to stop," she said.

D'Innocenzo said he mentioned at one of his library events that he had donated his body to the new Hofstra North Shore-LIJ School of Medicine.

"Belle [later] phoned me and urgently asked [for] the anatomical gift forms . . . saying she did not want to delay."

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