Sunset Parker celebrates 100th birthday with family and friends in neighborhood

A long-time Sunset Park resident only gets better with age.

A family from the neighborhood just celebrated the 100th birthday of Isabel Argentina Rodriguez Espinal.

On Saturday, April 16 at Widdi Catering Hall, 5602 Sixth Avenue, over 140 family and friends from Colorado, Pennsylvania, Georgia, and Florida traveled to Sunset to celebrate the milestone. Her descendants include nine children, 35 grandchildren, 70 great grandchildren and 29 great, great grand-children.

“We made it like a family reunion,” said granddaughter of Espinal, Maritza Peralta. “My nephew is in the Air Force and is stationed in Florida and came to the event. My daughter is in the National Guard and she came for the weekend as well. We were so thrilled they came.”

Festivities included music, food, storytelling and even the presentation of a letter from New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, congratulating Espinal on her milestone.

“We heard remarkable stories. We made a big memory book with all the cousins,” Paralta added. “It was like a big family tree event. It was lot of fun. We also did a slideshow of kids and great grandchildren. She definitely enjoyed it.”

Although the birthday girl was hesitant to attend the celebration, she appreciated every minute, according to Paralta.

“At first, she didn’t want to go. She wanted to stay in bed praying. But we told her that this whole day was for you,” she explained. “She came and stayed until the end in her wheelchair. We had a toast and she enjoyed the toast and strawberry champagne. She hasn’t seen so many people in such a long time. She’s used to seeing the immediate family. She was so happy to see all of them.”

Espinal was born on April 12, 1916 in Santiago Dominican Republic in a town called Boca de Los Rios. She married her husband Rafael David Espinal Perez and together, they had nine children.

“She moved to Sunset in the 1960’s and lived on 43rd street between Third and Fourth Avenues and then she moved to 59th and Fourth,” her granddaughter said. “She worked in factories on Third Avenue and at an ironing clothing factory. Her mom died when she was less than 10 years old.”

Most of Espinal’s family was all born and raised here in the Sunset Park area, and her uncle had business here. Of her nine children, three have passed away.

Currently, Espinal lives with Peralta’s mother. “She’s lived with her since the 90’s, especially after my grandfather passed away,” she said. “It’s been hard but my mom takes great care of her.”

When it was over, the birthday bash was deemed a success.

“It was an unforgettable moment. We gathered pictures through the years with her as far back as we could, during her early twenties,” she said. “We wanted to stay until the morning. You could hear stories. Grandma got up and shared stories. It’s a blessing to us that we saw this milestone.”

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