92-year-old Berkeley woman proves independence is ageless

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At 92, Lischner remains determined and still relies on her survival skills. For many, she is a testament that one can live as independently as possible regardless of age.

Several months ago, Lischner decided she wasn't happy living in a retirement home in the Alameda marina. It was beautiful and considered to be one of the best homes in the area, but it just wasn't her kind of place.

For one thing, she thought they served too much meat and not enough fiber.

So Lischner decided to move back to Berkeley — her prior home — and the heartland of organic vegetables, grains and alternative medical practitioners.

She even found the right location for her, the Strawberry Creek Lodge retirement home on Addison Street, and put herself on the waiting list.

Anne Bersin-Rosenthal, Lischner's social worker and head of the community outreach program for the Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland, opposed the move.

"I told Mrs. Lischner I couldn't help her move because I thought it was a bad decision," said Bersin-Rosenthal, who felt Lischner needed the nursing care, housekeeping, meal and laundry services that she was receiving in Alameda.

But Lischner felt that health food, homeopathy and acupuncture were more important to her well-being. Over Bersin-Rosenthal's objection, Lischner moved.

That was several months ago, and Lischner is doing just fine.

"She's really in her element," says Bersin-Rosenthal, a certified geriatric-care manager who has arranged for Lischner to receive some housekeeping and other services.

Most of Bersin-Rosenthal's clients are referred by their adult children who need help solving the problems of their aging parents. Generally, Bersin-Rosenthal tries to maintain clients in an independent living arrangement. If that's not workable, she finds the best placement for them.

Bersin-Rosenthal calls Lischner's success "a testament to her willful character. She has a very strong sense of her needs. I think it's quite remarkable."

With her basket-equipped walker, Lischner shops at two local supermarkets, both within walking distance. Using a crockpot, she prepares some meals in her room. The home provides five weekly meals, which meet with Lischner's approval.

And the overall atmosphere of her new home is more to Lischner's liking. With residents' periodic discussions and lectures about political issues, the home has more of a socialistic orientation, according to Lischner.

As far as Lischner goes, it's obvious she's doing something right. Although she's partially blind and her gait is unsteady, she has relatively few physical problems. Until a few years ago, she spent five nights a week doing international folk-dancing.

Born in 1905 in Austria, Lischner lost both of her parents to illness in 1914. She was sent to live with her grandmother, who became ill shortly after Lischner's arrival. Lischner cared for her grandmother and, upon her death, moved to Germany to live with an aunt.

"My aunt had a business," says Lischner. "I cleaned her house and worked in the business. She never paid me."

Lischner later married and started her own business, a knit goods factory. Although her business was successful, everything changed after Adolf Hitler came to power.

"My customers didn't have to pay me," says Lischner. In 1936 an uncle of her husband's living in New York sent for them. "I sold the factory and had just enough money to pay for the trip."

In New York, Lischner went to night school to learn English. In 1940, her husband died. Lischner was again on her own, a single mother with a child.

"No one ever took care of me," she says. "If someone had taken care of me I would have been a very educated person."

But what she lacks in formal education she more than makes up for in everyday wisdom, street-smarts and solid instincts.

For years she worked in New York's garment industry. Because much of her work was seasonal, she estimates that she held somewhere in the neighborhood of 200 different jobs. At one point she worked for Anne Klein making patterns from sketches of clothes.

She retired in 1970 and moved first to San Diego, but fairly quickly found Berkeley was a better fit.

Lischner is a true Berkeley spirit. In addition to her folk-dancing, vegetarian diet and alternative doctors, she used to be active with the Gray Panthers. She enjoys talking politics and loves music, but most of all likes socializing.

In spite of her diminished vision, Lischner is a regular at the movies shown at Strawberry Creek Lodge. She uses the time to do arm exercises with her one-pound weight.

"I need to be with people."