How to Age Gracefully, According to 6 Westchester Residents

Photo courtesy of Christine Doherty

Reflections, observations, and wisdom from six Westchester residents who have unlocked the secret to staying young while growing old.

Let’s be real: There’s no such thing as the Fountain of Youth, and like it or not, we’re all getting older with each passing second. We may fight hard against Father Time — utilizing weapons that jam our social media feeds and include everything from natural to man-made potions, pro tips, and tricks — but at the end of the day, time marches on. Perhaps the key to winning this unrelenting battle is to embrace the inevitable and strap on our sturdiest marching boots. These six Westchester residents are doing just that, armed with confidence, a solid sense of self, and an abundance of childlike joy and optimism. As a result, an aura of youth surrounds them, and they shine as bright as a brand-new day.

50s

Christine Doherty, 52; Eastchester

Part of an age group in which “we’re getting old” is both a frequent observation and a near-constant comeback, quintessential girl-next-door Christine Doherty takes a different, much more optimistic, view. “There is something to be proud of in each decade,” she says. “Every stage in life is significant, and you’ll learn and grow in some way.”

Refusing to be “confined by society’s expectation of someone in their 50s,” Doherty believes the secret to aging well is doing what makes you happy and feels good — even if it results in shopping for trendy bell-bottom jeans with your 20-year-old daughter and gifting yourself two pairs or enjoying a beer as your girlfriends sip Prosecco. “I don’t follow a script, and I don’t believe you have to make decisions based on what people want you to do,” she says. “It’s good to get out of your comfort zone, be a little bit of a risk-taker.” And, she adds: “I’m not reckless, but I am definitely adventurous.”

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50s
Photo courtesy of Christine Doherty

Doherty feels fortunate to have the comfort of an adoring husband, a big family, and lifelong friendships as she navigates life, and she believes it’s vital to be “mindful of the gifts” you receive as the days go by. “When you embrace every year, they’re that much more meaningful.”

A middle school teacher and mom to three, Doherty says kids are nature’s antidote to aging. “They remind me that there are so many exciting things in the world: Santa, summer vacation, tacos on the lunch menu.” There’s a lot of happiness and good out there, she notes, so “smile a lot — at everyone.”

And while many of her 50-something peers are borderline obsessed with less natural ways of reversing the clock, “I’m only going forward,” says Doherty proudly and with upbeat conviction. “But I’m not embracing the grays.”

60s

Frank Caputzal, 68; Port Chester

A firm believer that “aging is a natural thing,” Frank Caputzal says, “I do everything I can to fight it.” With the physique and focus of a professional athlete and a consistent nutritious-eating regimen that took root when he met his wife, Lucille, 40-plus years ago, Caputzal has long been determined to live as healthfully as possible, relative to where he’s at in life. “You know you’re going to change,” he says. “So, I adapt. I choose activities appropriate to my age and what I can do, comfortably and safely, at the time.”

While he used to hike eight to 10 miles at a clip, his limit is now five miles, and he no longer hikes alone. “This is both depressing and inspiring,” he says. “It’s depressing because I don’t have as many options, but I’m encouraged because [he pauses] I can hike five miles!”

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aging into 60s
Photo courtesy of Frank Caputzal

Since he’s unable to bike as hard as in days past, Caputzal got himself an electric two-wheeler with pedal assist, which he used to cycle from Battery Park to Albany. “It was not in order, and a few of the sections I did more than once, but I did it,” he says. “And it only took about a year and a half.”

Poised for his next physical challenge (he completed his first triathlon at 60, so check that off the list), Caputzal’s eyes remain fixed on the ever-changing horizon. “Looking back is not a philosophy I take,” he says. He does recall, however, that before retirement, it was tricky to fit in the level of physical activity he craved, whereas now it can take center stage. “I can fight the clock even harder.”

70s

Rashid Silvera, 75; Bronxville

With intention, off-the-charts buoyancy, and contagious, youthful positivity, Rashid Silvera describes how he has admired “the majesty of longevity” since he was a little boy, well before he could count to 96, the age his grandmother lived to be. “I knew my grandmother was grand but not that there was a number attached to that,” he says. His mother lived to 98, and her two sisters were 95 and 102 before they passed on.

“Longevity is in my system,” he says. “I have no excuse to say, ‘Woe is me; my life is over.’ I can’t even say that with a straight face,” he laughs. Instead, Silvera has chosen to envision himself gracefully gliding through the decades, humming a mantra that goes like this: “As old as I am, I am that young as well.”

70s
Photo by Stefan Radtke

A dedicated educator (35 years at Scarsdale High School), Silvera became an international fashion model at 35, an age when “they’re usually forcing you out of the business, not inviting you in.” To his fellow models back then, “I was a hundred years old; they saw me as their big brother,” he says. “But to me, maturity has always been curiosity, a search for learning, and the vulnerability to say in an audible tone, ‘I don’t know.’ That kind of childlikeness is what I’ve been after.”

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Four decades later, Silvera continues to model, mostly for Polo Ralph Lauren, and he’s keenly aware of what has kept him in the game, beyond his stunning looks. “I renew myself with every friendship. We start at the beginning, which is a young place to start.”

And if you can learn to dance, he suggests, “you can last forever.”

80s

Ray Rodriguez, 87; Peekskill

If you ask “gym rat” and Puerto Rico native Ray Rodriguez for the secret to his enviable vitality — from his bright, appealing face to his tight abs and toned biceps — he’s likely to tell you “I have no secrets,” which he follows with, “About anything.”

Rodriguez spends two hours a day, five days a week at the gym — walking on the treadmill, riding the bike, lifting weights — and during that time, “I talk to everybody. I don’t hold back.” He believes that kind of openness is why he feels so good, physically and emotionally, while others his age (and much younger) suffer and complain about their aches and pains.

“I feel free,” he says. “I have a good attitude; I’m pleasant. I always have a smile on my face; I’m not a sour puss.” He notices that the folks with more health issues are also the ones who don’t appear as friendly, failing to go out of their way to make conversation or small talk. “I like to learn about people, how they live, how they grew up,” says Rodriguez. “It keeps me going.”

aging into 80s
Rodriguez Photo by Peter Bell

And he’s been going since his 20s, when he was a regular at bodybuilding competitions but before running 15 marathons between the ages of 47 and 62. “The doctor told me that if I didn’t stop running, I’d need a cane. So, I stopped, and I don’t need a cane. Thank God.”

Nearing 90, Rodriguez doesn’t think of himself as old. “I don’t know colds, headaches, upset stomachs. None of those ailments.” A great-grandfather whose wife of 62 years passed away not long ago, Rodriguez chooses to live on his own. His daughter invited him to move in with her, but “I told her: ‘I’m not ready to bother you.’”

Rodriguez has been a church usher and a devout Catholic throughout his life and tends to punctuate most of his sentences with homage to his creator, keeping with the positive, welcoming persona he shares with anyone around him (even those who don’t return his friendly pleasantries). “I’ve had a good life, and I’m still having a good life,” he says. “Thank God.”

90s

Ilse Koerper, 90; Yonkers

It’s impossible to ignore the pure, ethereal joy that emanates from Ilse Koerper’s eyes when she smiles (she’s almost always smiling), but it fades ever so slightly when she ponders the question that has haunted her in recent decades: Why do I survive and not others?

She knows, deep within her soul, that “it’s God’s plan, not mine,” and she’s pretty sure her easy longevity has nothing to do with anything she’s done right — least of all diet and exercise, two things she’s always eschewed. “I have no rules, no regulations. God made me the way I am,” she says with certainty and unwavering faith. “People get so locked into rules; they get into a rut of ‘can’t do this, can’t do that.’ They ruin their lives,” she says.

“I’m not an organizer; I don’t have a routine. I live.” For Koerper, “living” is mainly defined by being aware of and enjoying people, observing the whole person, and recognizing how funny we all are. “I don’t know what you’re supposed to say and what you’re supposed to do. I don’t know boundaries. I just love life, and I love people.”

Baking
Photo by Stefan Radtke

A free spirit with a strong Christian foundation, Koerper has spent her life putting God first, and she talks to Him regularly. “God has a great sense of humor; I know I’ve made Him laugh,” she says, heartily. And then, with sincerity: “He’s carried me through.”

Koerper never gave much thought to aging gracefully, and you won’t find mirrors dotting the walls of the Yonkers home she’s occupied for most of her life. “I look at myself in the morning and say, ‘You’re getting old,’ and I go on with my day.”

Now, and through all her days, “my mind is always going, and I’m always ready for the next adventure,” she says, nearly bubbling over with giddy hopefulness. “Getting involved in life and people, it’s so important.”

A warm, steady friend to all her cross her path, Koerper lends a hand (or a fresh-baked banana loaf) whenever possible, but her “live and let live” mindset keeps her from giving advice. That said, she’s quick to recommend: “Cocktails never hurt!”

100s

Angie Torrisi, 102; Hastings-on-Hudson

Radiating a warm, zesty light — boosted by a quick, laser-sharp wit — Angie Torrisi is regularly mistaken for someone decades younger, and routinely asked for the elusive tool she uses to beat back the hands of time. “I really have no secret,” she insists, though she’s quite confident that an active, engaged lifestyle, from her earliest days to today, is the ticket to her seemingly effortless lifespan.

“Growing up, we had no cars. We walked everywhere, to church, to stores, to school. We walked up the subway steps; there were no escalators.” A whole lot of dancing (anyone recall The Peabody?) in her Upper Manhattan neighborhood didn’t hurt either. And in her 50s, while maintaining a secretarial career, Torrisi devoted every spare second to her grandchildren, shuttling them to-and-fro.

aging into 100s
Photo by Stefan Radtke

These days, Torrisi occupies the passenger seat, as she gave up driving at 95. “I was happier then,” she says. “I don’t want to be dependent on people.” However, she’ll make an exception for TJ Maxx. “Oh my God, I love to shop,” she says with gusto, almost savoring her words. At least twice a month, Torrisi can be found pushing a shopping cart (partly for support) through the aisles, with a younger relative shopping close by. A consummate label reader, ShopRite is another favorite haunt.

She continues to cook every day, preparing dinner for a son who joins her nightly in the Hastings apartment she’s occupied for 45 years (she lives alone now), though macular degeneration means she can no longer read recipes well enough to bake.

Amid all her lifelong and ongoing activity, Torrisi believes her knack for maintaining a sense of calm is paramount. “Stress plays a big part” in aging, she says. “Be calm, more patient, don’t get aggravated.” And by all means, she adds: “No sex.”

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