ONEONTA — Dorothy Drake of Sidney celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by close friends and former coworkers at the Chestnut Park Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on Thursday, Jan. 16.
Sitting quietly in the center of the room, Drake smiled and greeted guests in between neat bites of chocolate and vanilla birthday cake.
“There are so many people,” Drake said, adding that she felt happy and excited to celebrate the day.
Many there knew Drake through her work with the Sidney Central School District. She was the high school office's business manager for at least 35 years, according to close friend and longtime neighbor Bill Dann.
Ed Abbot said he taught high school when Drake worked in the school district. He said he remembers her always doing her job with great tenacity.
"No one could get through the district office without seeing this lady," he said. "She was in charge. When you're there that long, you become institutional."
Dann said he'd lived next door to Drake and her late husband for about 45 years. Drake, who is originally from Hardaway, Alabama, moved to Sidney with her husband to take care of his father about 55 years ago, Dann said.
Drake's family still lives in Alabama and couldn't be there to celebrate the occasion because of personal circumstances, he said. Dann comes from Sidney to visit Drake at least twice a week and his sister, Becky Leidy, also visits quite often, he said.
Drake said reading, gardening, walking and seeing friends were among her favorite things to do. These days, Drake seems content sitting quietly when they're together, Dann said.
During their days as neighbors, Dann said Drake prided herself on having a neatly manicured lawn and remembered how she loved working outside on her flower beds. Drake loved to dote on Dann's daughter, who was five years old when they became neighbors, he said.
"They've always been the best of neighbors. We've always been very close," Dann said. "I think she considers me as a son and I've always looked after her."
Drake said she remembers Dann being a very good parent throughout the years. She credited her own parents for shaping her into the person she is today, particularly her mother.
"My mother was a very precious person and she was kind and gentle no matter what," Drake said. "She was able to make sure that I did what I should do, and know what I should do."
Shweta Karikehalli, staff writer, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 607-441-7221. Follow her @DS_ShwetaK on Twitter.