By Lisa Woolfson
Mollie Witow has led a life filled with traveling and solar eclipses. She’s assisted German atomic scientists, worked as a librarian and volunteered with the Israel Defense Forces.
Now, at 100 years old, Witow is the oldest student at the Community College of Baltimore County Hunt Valley, where she’s been studying opera for years. Music has always been a passion of hers, Witow said. She’s also interested in astronomy, history and Jewish culture.
“She’s had an interest in a lot of different subjects all of her life,” said Witow’s daughter, Alison.
Despite the pandemic, Witow’s 100th birthday was full of celebration. She received an array of floral arrangements, gifts, cards and more than 130 emails from friends and strangers.
She had a socially distanced birthday party at Woodholme Gardens, a senior living community, complete with a cake her opera class sent her. She also had a socially distanced outdoor dinner with her family.
A century ago, on Oct. 20, 1920, Witow was born in transit, as her family left what is now Belarus during the Russian Civil War. She arrived in the United States at 6 weeks old, and her family settled in Baltimore, where she attended Eastern High School and Goucher College.
She became a librarian and worked at the Enoch Pratt Free Library until she married her husband, Morris Witow.
Of all the jobs she’s had, being a librarian was her favorite. She loved “having access to everything that my heart desired, and I liked waiting on customers,” said Witow, who now has a family with two children, six grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way.
After she got married, she moved with her husband to Ohio. At Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, she did archival work and translated for German atomic scientists working there secretly.
Other careers she’s had over the years include real estate agent, landlord and census taker.
In 1950, she returned to the D.C. area, then moved back to Baltimore a few years later.
Witow has traveled all over the world, including to Israel, where she volunteered with the army for two months. One of her motivations for traveling was to see solar eclipses. She’s seen about 16, all over the world.
Witow has also sponsored family members she had never even met who were leaving the Soviet Union and needed to settle somewhere new.
Berta Tsimerman is one of those relatives. “[Witow] is always ready to communicate, to discover things, and she is very generous because she didn’t have to do what she had done,” Tsimerman said. “It took a lot of her time actually to deal with us.”
When Tsimerman boarded the plane to Baltimore with her family, she was nervous about meeting the Witows. She didn’t even know where her family would sleep that night, but Witow rented their first apartment for them.
They met at the station. Although Tsimerman’s family spoke Russian and Lithuanian, and Witow and her family spoke English, they were able to communicate because they both spoke Yiddish.
“Then they took us to the apartment, and it was fully furnished, and the fridge was filled with food, and it was a lot of light and people who were waiting for us and that was amazing,” Tsimerman said.
They are still very close to this day.
Witow has made friends both near and far. One of her good friends in Baltimore, Minister Valjean Gilmore, is 30 years younger than she is.
“I learned from Mollie that it does not matter your faith or your nationality, because true love comes from the heart and has no boundaries,” Gilmore said.
Witow also embraces cultural life in Baltimore, and has supported the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Shriver Hall, The Walters Art Museum and the Jewish Museum of Maryland.
Three years ago, Witow celebrated her 97th birthday by taking her first hot-air balloon ride.
“I’ve done many things in my life, but I’ve never done anything like this,” she told the JT at the time.
After a century of adventures, Witow has some advice for those who want to live a happy and full life.
“You can’t be alone,” she said. “You have to be in the midst of people that you know care for you.”
Lisa Woolfson is a freelance writer.