Busy Bubbie: Sara Shipper to celebrate 100th
Photos: Courtesy Shipper family
Sara Shipper, who turns 100 Feb. 24, 2022, celebrated her 99th birthday at her daughter and son-in-law Barbara and Fred Shlesinger’s home despite the pandemic. 

‘Amazing is an understatement,’ say her children

By Deb Silverthorn

Next Thursday, Feb. 24, Sara Shipper will celebrate 100 years of a life lived with gumption, optimism and grace. 

“I know many people think it’s a big deal and I suppose it is, but you just have to be busy and enjoy life,” said Shipper, born in 1922 in Omaha, Nebraska. “Every day is important and every day I feel blessed.”

The oldest daughter of Lena and Morris Forbes, Shipper, along with the youngest of five children, Ruth Litwin, survives their three brothers Daniel, who passed away in 2011; Ralph, who died in infancy; and Leonard, who died as a young child.

“I’ve never been one to move with the times; a flip-phone is as far as I’ve come,” said Shipper, who still dismisses her family’s attempts to have her use computers or an updated telephone. “I vividly remember in Omaha that we were the only house around with a telephone. The neighbors would come over to borrow it and Mom, the ‘Dear Abby’ of her time, always offered her wise mind and patience.”

With the 1930s depression, Morris, who owned Forbes Bakery, saw bread drop to $.02 a loaf. The family filed for bankruptcy and moved to San Antonio, where Morris opened New York Bakery and the family belonged to congregations Agudas Achim and Rodfei Sholom.

After graduating from Brackenridge High School, Shipper studied business at San Antonio Junior College and then Our Lady of the Lake University. At the Catholic school, she and her friend Sylvia Cohen were the only Jewish students; the nuns called the synagogue when the girls were absent for Jewish holidays. Sara worked her way through college as a model and dress salesgirl. After graduating, she was able to type 136 words a minute and was a champion at shorthand, so she worked as a legal stenographer.

Sara and her girlfriends spent many weekends at dances at the local JCC, where they met many of the airmen stationed at Randolph Air Force Base. 

“We were used to polite and genteel young men from the South and here were these pretty loud, crude and boorish East Coasters. I met Bernard and that was it — almost,” she said with a smile. “I was engaged to another man but while he was overseas, we broke up by letter. When he returned, he wanted to get together but I replied, signing my letter ‘Mrs. Bernard Shipper.’”

Bernard, who had gone to a yeshiva high school and was raised in a religiously observant home, was asked to serve, ultimately for three years, as assistant chaplain at the base when its rabbi was sent overseas.

The couple married on Aug. 5, 1945, at the Riverside-Plaza Hotel in New York. “I still remember my mother pushing me to keep going, to walk around Bernard those seven times,” said Shipper. The two honeymooned at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City, where she remembers the nightly rate of $8.

After Bernard left the service, the couple moved to Corpus Christi, where he worked for Lichtenstein’s Department Store and she for a law firm. When the Zales company came to town, Bernard began a 30-plus-year career with the company and the Shippers made many moves through the decades.

Their six children were the “club sandwich,” so dubbed as they arrived — a daughter first, Carolyn (Martin) Alpert, born in Corpus Christi, then son, daughter, son, daughter, son: Bruce, Barbara (Fred) Shlesinger and Ronnie (Cynthia) the three of them born in Galveston, and Marlene (Tony) Petrocchi and Jeffrey (Janis), born in Knoxville, Tennessee. 

According to Marlene, describing her mother as “amazing” is not an understatement. “She is amazing and definitely one of the most upbeat people. She’s been through so much in life but she always remains positive. She marches through with a smile, quick wit and sharp sense of humor. For all that, and more, she’s so adored.”

“I’m thankful our parents had six children and that Mom treated each one individually and supported each of our talents and accomplishments,” said son Ronnie. “Whether it was a sports game or school activity, Mom was there and made sure we participated; [that’s] not easy with so many children, but [it’s] a legacy we’ve tried to carry on.”

In 1970, the Shipper family moved to Dallas, where they lived on Pebblebrook Drive and became members of Congregation Shearith Israel. The strong memories of holidays, services and simchas continue throughout the generations.

In 1975, the Shippers moved to Oklahoma City, where, in 1978, Bernard was diagnosed with lung cancer. After two years, during most of which he was hospitalized at M.D. Anderson in Houston, Bernard lost his battle to the disease at just 58 years old; the couple had been married for 34½years.

Shipper returned to Dallas, first living in a home on Highmark Square until it burned down in 1995. She moved to the Bonaventure Condominiums and then The Legacy Willow Bend when it opened in 2008.  

Still fiercely independent — she was driving into her 90s — Shipper has always managed her own life. Between her investments and the purchase of long-term care insurance, she wanted to be sure she would determine her future.

“I admire how independent Mom is, a value she models, and how she takes responsibility for herself,” said Carolyn. “After years of hiding her age, she went public at 95 by throwing herself a birthday party where she announced her age.”

Throughout her life, Shipper has served organizations including the City of Hope, for which she served as president in Oklahoma City, and B’nai B’rith Women in Galveston. She is a lifetime member of Hadassah and B’nai B’rith.

She enjoys reading, movies, plays and musicals, as well as playing bridge and mah jongg.

For the last 40 years, Shipper has been deeply engaged in the stock market. What began as she sat at her husband’s hospital bedside, managing daily calls with his financial advisors — Dallas residents Sam, of blessed memory, and Herb Kesner — transformed into her own success and ability to support herself. 

“It took me 40 years to get rid of a margin but it’s all good. I’ve never worked on my feet in all these years,” said Shipper, who follows reports in print and on CNBC, calling herself well-positioned. “My kids, and now the grandchildren, have followed me into the market.”

As the branches of the Shipper family tree have spread, the next generations include grandchildren Ariela Alpert (Oliver Ho) and their impending arrival; Tyler Shipper; Benjamin, Bradley, Emily and Iliza (Noah Galuten) Shlesinger; Dillon and Molly Shipper; Jessica (Brendan) Toohey, Nicholas (Kim Basak) and Eric Petrocchi, and Jettson Shipper; and great-granddaughter Sierra Mae Galuten.

“‘Busy Bubbie,’ her well-deserved nickname, would never let us be bored — that’s a bad word.  She’d always help us find something to do, to get involved and to find ourselves,” said granddaughter Jessica. “We admire her strength and independence; ‘bullish’ in the stock market is an understatement. We all have articles she’s saved about whatever we’re involved with. Always, always, she’s involved so lovingly with our family.”

While separated by 11 years in age, Shipper and her “baby sister” Ruth didn’t live close for most of their lives, but they’re now thrilled to be neighbors at The Legacy Willow Bend.

“Despite our age difference, we couldn’t be closer and I love having her nearby,” said Ruth. “I remember, when I was very young, it was my job to check out her dates when they’d arrive at the door. I had to tell her how tall the man was and she’d pick between two pairs of shoes — with different heels — what to wear.”

Shipper is hoping to spend this birthday with many people she loves, since last year’s celebration came amid the winter’s freeze. She was staying at the Shlesinger home while The Legacy Willow Bend dealt with burst pipes and power issues. While the Shlesingers also had no power, Shipper slept in a recliner next to a cozy fireplace for three nights, her positive attitude never waning.

“It was unexpected for sure, but we treasured getting to spend that time with her,” said daughter Barbara. “Everyone who lives locally came over and it was the first time we’d been together in almost a year due to the pandemic. We enjoyed her favorite meal of fried chicken, ‘Zooming’ in with those who don’t live close by.”

At Shipper’s 95th birthday, a special guest came in the form of the off-duty fireman who likely saved her life when he saw her home burning in 1995.

Whatever this birthday brings, it will include blessings from those she loves and plans made for the next year — for many years — as Sara Shipper isn’t sitting still anytime soon.

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