Meet Cecilia Droll, and know a hug is on the way.
Over the 101 years the Brooklyn native has spent as a wife, mother, World War II factory worker, homemaker and gardener—many of those years in Golden—she’s made a point to share some cheer with others.
“You’d be surprised how many people warm up when you give them a hug,” she said while sitting at her kitchen table in her 1950s home.
The invitation to her 100th birthday party in April 2013 at St. Joan of Arc Church in Arvada told guests to “Come get your hug.” Photos of the day show her embracing family, longtime friends, fellow churchgoers and clergy.
One of her daughters, Binny Howard, said her positive attitude is infectious.
“She is amazing, she really is,” Howard said. “She is a spark of light when she’s in a crowd. They all greet her and they know they’re going to get a hug.”
Underlying her hugs is a belief in the power of love.
“I think love is the answer,” said the centenarian.
As Ceci sat reflecting in her purple top and painted lips, she recalled that her life wasn’t planned.
“I was born right after midnight and my father delivered me at home,” she said.
Her mother was 40 years old when she delivered her April 24, 1913.
“I was not a wanted baby,” she said. “She told me herself I was an accident.”
Howard responded, “What a wonderful accident.”
Ceci grew up in New York where she recalls seeing horse-drawn carriages and kerosene lamps flickering at night. Her Hungarian father, Gustave, worked as a pastry chef and emigrated from Germany to America in 1905 with her Slovak mother, Paula.
Although wary of sailors for their reputed coarse manners, Ceci met a sailor and soon married him in June 1936 at St. Joan of Arc Church in New York. He was sent to sea on the U.S.S. Langley, the U.S. Navy’s first aircraft carrier, but went down with the ship after Japanese dive bombers damaged it so badly that it was scuttled in 1942.
With their first child Barbara to care for, Ceci went to work as a “Rosie the Riveter” at a factory in Long Beach, Calif. She was one of many women who went to work during World War II making war supplies and building airplanes.
“We had to take over for the men,” she explained.
She returned to New York to care for her dying mother and worked for American Airlines. While there she met another sailor, Edward Droll. This one was Catholic.
“He was friendly and I liked him,” she said about their first meeting at the famous Roseland Ballroom in New York City. “He had a good sense of humor.”
They married at the same St. Joan of Arc Church in April 1946. They drove to Denver where he worked as a machinist and worked for the Rocky Flats Plant. He later died of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in 2000.
They raised Barbara and their four children—Mark, June, Bernadette (Binny) and Susie—in the Catholic faith. They prayed the rosary together regularly as a family while kneeling on the basement tile floor. Sunday Mass and family dinners were a priority.
They spent most of their days in the home Edward built on two acres of land in Golden. During that time, Ceci budded into a gardener and became the longest-certified master gardener in Jefferson County. She wrote columns, taught classes, held outreach efforts and visited elementary schools to mentor children on gardening and forming sustainable lifestyles.
In her days, it was a way of life, she said.
While she doesn’t maintain a garden today, Ceci still lives in her Golden home. Her meals typically consist of a can of Campbell’s Chunky Soup and added vegetables. She proudly demonstrates how she can touch her toes, a sign of health she attributes to vitamins.
Ceci said she attends Mass as able or watches the TV Mass and frequently prays. She also stays in touch with her 12 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
She’ll continue to share hugs until God calls her home.
“Whatever God wants for me,” she said.