A centenarian with a Jersey state of mind
Parents immigrated from Ukraine in ’12
Jim Mimiaga/Cortez Journal
She celebrated the day with her great niece Debbra McCormick and nephew John Torbyn at his home near Dolores.
Torbyn was born in 1914 on Staten Island, New York, and grew up in New Jersey. She drove until 97, and still lives on her own in Arizona. She frequently visits John and his wife, Rose, in Dolores.
“I like Arizona, but it is not as good as New Jersey,” she says.
Her parents migrated to America from the Ukraine in 1912.
“They were wheat farmers, and heard from friends about a better life here, so they got on the boat like everyone else,” Torbyn says.
Growing up in America was more simple in the ’20s and ’30s.
“We went to a lot of church dances and to the movies,” she recalls. “When we got home from school, we put the phonograph on and started dancing.”
Her father worked in the coal mines as part of an immigration agreement, then got a job in a factory.
Her parents passed on a hard work ethic. Torbyn started working at age 19 in the dry-cleaning business. After eight years there, she took a bookkeeping job at the New Jersey Central Railroad.
“I worked there for 38 years and retired at age 65 in 1979,” she said. “Then it was time to travel a lot with my friends.”
She spent her vacations and retirement traveling to Europe and Hawaii and taking a lot of cruises.
“We had so much fun. I love seeing different places; we went everywhere. But at 100 it is time to sit, wouldn’t you say? I still feel fine, with just a few aches and pains.”
She never married, and has no children.
“That could be the secret to my long life,” she laughed. “My nieces and nephews were like my kids.”
As an adult, she took on raising her nephew John Torbyn who had a troubled home life.
“I would not be here without her,” he said. “She was a tough disciplinarian; I was scared of her back then.”
The centenarian has an easy smile, sharp wit, and apparent casual attitude that helped her live a good life.
“Take it easy, enjoy the view,” she advises looking at the scenery of McPhee Reservoir from the Torbyns’ deck.
“It is hard to remember things from so long ago, but all my traveling with friends stays with me. There are not too many of them left.”
She brushes off a question about advice for today’s youth, but then reconsiders.
“Be honest, be kind, work hard,” she said.
“She’s always kidding us about our computers and phones, asking ‘Wwhat are you always doing with those?’” says McCormick.
Later on in the day, a pension representative from the New Jersey Central Railroad is paying Torbyn a visit.
“I think they are wondering if she is sill alive,” John says. “She’s getting more out of the pension than she put in, but it’s a deserving benefit of her long life and hard work.”