STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Leo Schubert turned 103 years young on Sept. 25 at Eger Health Care and Rehabilitation Center, surrounded by staff members of Eger, the facility he has called home for approximately 10 years.
The last surviving sibling of seven children — four brothers and three sisters — Schubert recalls his growing-up years.
“We had a 40-gallon hot water boiler on a stand in the kitchen next to a porcelain split tub, and Saturday night was bath night,” Schubert said.
“You’d take your turn in the bath tub, and that’s the way it was. Everyone seemed to be raising a large family, and we invented our own games to play on the street.”
Schubert attended Immaculate Conception Grammar School, run by the Sisters of Charity and says he lived through the challenging years of the Great Depression in the 1930s. “I started at the old St. Peter’s High School, but needed to leave to earn a living,” he said.
“You looked at a penny, and it magnified itself so big, you know? And this is what taught us to be frugal and very inventive. Second-hand clothing was common.”
For fun, Leo fished with his dad in the winters at Edgewater off the end of the pier in Stapleton, catching hake and whiting, which his mom later then baked for dinner, including many Thanksgiving dinners.
“Everybody seemed to be raising large families and we were all friendly and there was a lot of love throughout the whole community,” he said.
LIVING THROUGH THE GREAT DEPRESSION
Throughout the Great Depression, Schubert took odd jobs and did manual labor working with his hands, earning 75 cents a day.
“I worked alongside my father and brothers; my father was an excellent mason. We used to sell Christmas trees on sidewalks outside of the fruit stores and collected bottles with 2 cent deposits,” he said. “We all had to chip in to defray the family’s rent at our flat.”
After the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, at the age of 25, Leo enlisted in the Army. During his time as a staff sergeant, he found himself entrusted with supervising troops, sharing living quarters with prisoners of war from Japan and Germany, and later making rank as chief of the message center.
“After returning from the military, I made the acquaintance of a wonderful woman while hanging wall paper at her home,” he said. “We got married when I was 31.”
As his family grew, he found a new home on Grymes Hill, that he restored with his own hands for his wife and children, from the sidewalk, to the walls, and every room inside. “It was a labor of love and every bit was done with care,” he said. “We were together 59 years when my wife passed.”
In the 1940s, Leo held a position as a jeweler and became interested in the artwork behind the jewelry, eventually attending the Mechanic’s Institute on West 44th Street in Manhattan.
He got a job designing for William Barthman Jewelers in Brooklyn, followed by Cartier in Manhattan, designing custom pieces for his customers, including former Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos and Elizabeth Taylor.
GRATEFUL FOR HIS LIFE’S EXPERIENCES
“When I look back and see all the work that I did, I know I had help from up above,” said Schubert, reflecting on his life. “I can never ever say I did it alone. I don’t say ‘You don’t know how bad it was.’ Instead, I say, ‘Thank the Lord every single night for everything I’ve ever gone through.’”
What does Schubert consider important in his life? “Faith, experiences, and the loving company I’m surrounded with,” he said. Schubert prays the rosary daily and he serves as an altar person during Sunday Mass at Eger.
In addition, he adores his loving children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; he is adored by all, as well.
An Eger spokeperson said, “It’s easy to see Mr. Schubert places his entire heart into every endeavor and adventure which comes his way, and he holds the hearts of all the family, friends, nurses, doctors, Priest, Chaplains and therapists who love him to pieces.”