At 108, Los Angeles Jewish Health Resident Continues to Thrive

Connections to Care Mobile Hero
Home / News & Events / Newsletter / At 108, Los Angeles Jewish Health Resident Continues to Thrive

At 108, Los Angeles Jewish Health Resident Continues to Thrive

Jul 3, 2023



When Fountainview at Gonda Westside resident Shirley Groner was born in June 1915, the average life expectancy was 54 years. The idea of doubling that lifespan would have been inconceivable – and yet, 108 years later, Shirley is still going strong.

The third of four sisters born and raised in the Chicago area, Shirley was a natural athlete – a talented swimmer and diver who brought the same passion and energy she displayed in the water to everything she did. It was that desire to jump in and experience life fully that led her to San Francisco as a young woman, where in a matter of months, she met and got engaged to her husband, Harold. They were together for 59 years, building a family and a life together that infused their partnership with love, fulfillment, and joy.

Their daughter, Wendy Groner Strauss (who with her husband, Michael Strauss, also lives at Fountainview at Gonda Westside), says Shirley has always been a force of nature.

“Mom is curious and engaged, and throughout her life she leaned into every opportunity,” Wendy notes. “If there was somewhere to go, she went; a place to explore, she seized the chance; people to talk to, she started chatting. I think being such a doer has helped keep her going all these years.”

In addition to raising Wendy and her two brothers, Wayne and Brian, Shirley was constantly on the move, whether it was knitting sweaters for US soldiers, participating in Hadassah and B’nai Brith, or serving as president of the San Francisco chapter of City of Hope. She also embraced the arts, frequently attending ballet performances, writing her own poetry, and soaking up musical theater productions. Music was central to her identity, and she delighted in playing the cornet, a brass instrument similar to the trumpet.

Although Harold’s passing in 2000 was difficult to bear, Shirley moved forward with her typical vigor, traveling frequently between Southern California and the East Coast to visit her 10 grandchildren, 53 great-grandchildren, and 24 great-great grandchildren.

“Bubba is a fixture in my life. I have so many wonderful memories of spending time with her when I was growing up, not only at our house in Orange County but also traveling abroad,” says grandson Sasha Strauss. “She’s stylish and creative, and so open to new things. Whenever she had a chance for adventure, she would say ‘yes,’ and in that way (and so many others) she’s really a role model for me.”

Embracing adventure has taken Shirley around the world, including Israel, Mexico, New Zealand, Curacao, Honduras, Italy, the Seychelle Islands, and beyond. She has even been mushing with Alaskan huskies in Colorado in 32-degree-below-zero conditions! On a number of trips, she channeled her love of swimming into skindiving with her son-in-law, Michael, an orthopaedist and wound care specialist who spent over three decades traversing the globe as a doctor for the Navy SEALs.

“Shirley is bold, there’s no question about it,” Michael says. “She’s also indefatigable: She would frequently accompany me to American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons meetings, spearheading some of the group’s charitable activities by helping to build playgrounds in cities from San Francisco to Washington, DC.”

For years, Shirley lived in a senior living community in San Francisco, but during COVID, she headed south to be closer to Wendy and Michael and their sons, Sasha, an expert in brand strategy and a professor at USC and UCLA, and Ari, an electrical engineer. Wendy, still a working pharmacist, and Michael, an active LA-area surgeon, had been poised to take up residence at Fountainview at Gonda Westside when Shirley made the move to Los Angeles, and they were successful in securing her a spot, as well.

“Living at Fountainview at Gonda Westside has been great for Mom: She frequently attends lectures and plays dominoes every night,” Wendy says. “Sometimes, she wins!”

Sasha was recently a Fountainview at Gonda Westside guest lecturer, and he was proud to have his grandmother in the front row. “I spoke for a couple of hours, and Bubba was following along and keeping up the entire time, even more so than many of the other, much younger, attendees,” he says. “To have that kind of ability at 108 is nothing short of astonishing.”

From her perspective, Shirley agrees that staying active has been central to her ability to thrive. But she has other ideas about what may be fueling her longevity, as well.

“Healthy food helps,” she says. “Also, having a lot of love.”

Sign up for the LAJHealth Newsletter, Connections.

Recent Articles

Feb 6

At Los Angeles Jewish Health Love Knows No Bounds

When 94-year-old Jack Schlaifer agreed to officiate at the wedding of his grandniece, Alison, and her fiancé, Daniel, he was building on a family tradition: months earlier, he had performed the marriage ceremony for Alison’s father (his nephew Charles) in the backyard of his Westlake Village home. Jack was honored when Alison asked him to do the honors for her wedding as well. They laid out plans for a similar ceremony, in the same venue, on New Year’s Day—until life got in the way. “In November, I had a fall, and I fractured my L5 [a region between the lumbar and sacral spine in the lower back],” Jack says. “Suddenly, I was living in a rehabilitation facility, and all bets were off. I called Alison and told her, ‘You can’t count on me for the wedding.’ I was sad about it, but what could I do?” Alison knew exactly what he should do: proceed full steam ahead. "She said, “Uncle Jack, I don’t care where you are; I want you to marry us. We’ll come to wherever you are!’” he recalls. “I was incredibly moved.” All that was left was to coordinate with the staff at Los Angeles Jewish Health. LAJH is a place that Jack, a native Angeleno who had raised his family in the Valley, had long known and loved. “I joined The Guardians (a support group of LAJH) in 1980, and when they formed The Executives, I was a founding member and, later, president,” he said. “I served on The Executives’ board for 30 years.” Jack reached out to Los Angeles Jewish Health staff, and everyone enthusiastically leaned in to ensure all details were arranged. On January 1, 2024, in a cozy family room on the Grancell Village campus, Jack gathered together with Alison, Daniel, and an intimate group of family to give the couple his blessing and pronounce them “man and wife.” “It was an amazing wedding, and it brought me a lot of naches [joy],” Jack says, smiling. “After it was over, the family went for sandwiches to Brent’s Deli, which is Alison and Daniel’s favorite place. It was perfect.” Once the ceremony was complete, it was back to the hard work of rehab. Every day Jack has both physical and occupational therapy, and every day he gets a little bit stronger. While the road to recovery is long, he is grateful to be walking it at Los Angeles Jewish Health. “I’m lucky to be here,” he says. “The care is wonderful, and the people are great.”
Read More
Feb 6

Special Intergenerational Program Honors Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Spirit of Coming Together for the Greater Good

Members of the Jewish and African-American communities have long found solidarity in common purpose, with a history of teaming up toward the pursuit of equal rights. As the New Year began, two diverse community groups gathered at Los Angeles Jewish Health to remember the legacy of the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. while continuing to build toward a unified future. They literally came together to break bread. In collaboration with Challah and Soul, a program that seeks to educate and unite the Jewish and Black communities, high school students from Adat Ari El congregation traveled to Los Angeles Jewish Health for an adventure in baking and storytelling. During the fascinating intergenerational event, LA Jewish Health residents shared memories of Dr. King as they worked side-by-side with the students to braid loaves of challah. The result: a wonderful afternoon of raising awareness, passing along a beloved Jewish tradition, and fostering strong intergenerational bonds. “The students arrived with smiles and great energy,” says Susan Leitch, community manager and safety officer at Los Angeles Jewish Health and a key organizer of the event. “It was wonderful to see them interact with our seniors.” Created by Shonda Isom Walkowitz, the founder of Bucks Happy Farm in the Lucerne Valley, and Judi Leib, a chef and veteran of the food services industry, Challah and Soul was built on a mutual interest in helping Blacks and Jews rediscover the things that make them natural allies. As challah dough was passed to the assembled residents and students, Judi spoke about the importance of food in uniting diverse people, and Shonda offered her thoughts about the similarities between the Black and Jewish experiences. “This event showcased how much wisdom and perspective LA Jewish Health seniors can offer to the broader community,” Julie Lockman-Gold, special projects coordinator at Los Angeles Jewish Health, says. “Especially during a time of rising anti-Semitism, our residents have a lot to say about inequality, injustice, and racism. Giving them an opportunity to be heard – and for students to learn from their experiences – was truly meaningful.” The event drew a large turnout of residents from Grancell Village’s Mark Taper Building and Joyce Eisenberg-Keefer Medical Center, as well as 20 Adat Eri El students and some of their family members. “Watching them partner to make the challah, you could see the joy on everyone’s faces,” Julie recalls. “When the bread was done baking, the smell was amazing, and people were so excited to dig in!” By the end of the afternoon, the happiness and contentment that filled the room were clear indications of the event’s success. It was a feeling shared by all participants. Julie added, “As the students were leaving, Adat Ari El’s program director, Sara Markus, told me she’s already thinking about doing it again next year!”
Read More
Jan 24

Inaugural Classic & Exotic Car Show

Hirsch Family Campus No charge to supporters of LAJH RSVP Here
Read More