By Deb Silverthorn
Whoever first said “I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as quickly as I could” must have known Estelle Shwiff, who turns 100 on Thursday, May 18 — or maybe Friday, May 19. Either way, the beautiful resident of Crystal Creek at Preston Hollow will be celebrating it all.
“This is where my life began,” said Dallas’ newest centenarian, whose actual birth date came into question when she went to apply for Social Security. She’d always celebrated — and thought her birthday was — May 19; she was duly corrected by the U.S. government. Whatever the date, Estelle has made the most of her magnificent life and she’s not nearly finished.
For Estelle, the best part of her life began when she arrived in Dallas in 1953. Everything before that was only important because of the strength it brought her and her future. The matriarch is proud of her family including her children, Seth (Angela) Meyers, Ron (Theresa) Meyers, Jody Meyers, Mitch (Janice) Meyers and Debra Shwiff; her grandchildren, Scott (Kathy) Meyers and Meredith Sansbury, Ari (Chris Olson) and Jake Turrentine, and Alexa and Logan (Rachel Johnston) Meyers; and her great-grandchildren, Olivia Meyers, Gavin and Riley Sansbury.
“Mom has always been the most protective mother, fierce, loyal and confident. She’s always serious, but also fun,” said Mitch.
Estelle’s strongest voice says, and greatest lessons are, that moving forward matters.
“Yesterday is gone. Today is here and tomorrow we may never see. Live in the moment,” says the longtime Temple Emanu-El member and past-president of B’nai B’rith Women.
In the spring of 1953, Estelle arrived in North Dallas. During her first career as a teacher, she worked with children with autism. The diagnosis was then often thought to be a mental condition, but she never believed that. An advocate, she used observation and research to support her students and their families.
When Estelle bought the Florence Art Gallery in the early 1970s she was one of Dallas’ first female gallery owners.
“We had local artists and visiting exhibitors and I made exquisite relationships that lasted years,” she said, recalling an exhibit by actor and artist Van Johnson, for whom a line wrapped around the block.
“I wanted to incorporate myself into the business community. It wasn’t easy, but I worked hard and I was respected,” said Estelle, who took artists’ portfolios to corporations and sold work to executives to beautify their offices.
Estelle’s daughter-in-law Janice worked with her at the gallery and, just six weeks after having her first child, returned with baby in tow.
“My brother and I grew up there. As a baby, then after school, at nights and on weekends after events, it was our second home. We loved it,” said Estelle’s granddaughter Alexa. She believes her own passion for the arts was formed by her grandmother’s influence.
“My grandmother is the smartest, most business-minded person I know (no offense, Mom and Dad). She’s a pioneering life force who recognizes talent and dreamed of bigger. She only wanted to bring beauty into the world,” said Alexa, who is professionally readying to share artists through an online forum.
Alexa added, “Her constant belief in all of us, her example and my mother’s, showed me women can do and be anything and that striving high is a must.”
Estelle herself enjoys drawing, coloring, writing and creating braided dolls with squiggly eyes that bring her characters to life.
“Art is wonderful in whatever its form. Whether you are looking at it or creating it, it just lets you breathe,” says the centenarian, who shares her drawings and has gifted dozens to family and friends.
Estelle enjoyed travels to Italy, France, Canada and Mexico, where her family once gathered for a vacation with memories everlasting. The lights of Broadway beckoned the theater maven, as did family visits to California and to Arizona.
“My mother was ahead of her time and I appreciated that more after I had my own kids. She’s still my best friend,” said daughter Jody.
“Ours was always the house our friends wanted to be at. She always shared her wisdom, either subtly or straight out. There’s nothing she’s ever done without love for her family,” Jody added.
Estelle, who’s lived at Crystal Creek Preston Hollow since 2018, is involved in many of its programs. She enjoys music therapy, storytelling, games, exercise classes and more. A former tennis fanatic, once herself on the courts, she still appreciates watching matches on television.
Estelle and Barbara Stanley, of blessed memory, co-wrote a play, “The Case of the Absurdly Ridiculous Wedding Cake,” which was performed for families and guests. It’s hoped the duo’s sequel, “The Curse of the Plotnick Diamond,” will also be presented.
Ever ready with a joke, Estelle enjoys keeping fellow residents’ spirits up, their smiles broad and their hopes alive.
“There can be a lot of negativity in senior living so I make it my job to make ‘em laugh, to be happy and to keep people going. I’ve always demanded a lot of myself, that I do as much as I can for myself and I hope to help my neighbors feel they can too,” she said.
Jewish Family Service Community Chaplain Rabbi Howard Wolk enjoys visiting Estelle at Crystal Creek.
“In Pirkei Avot, we learn you should ‘meet and receive every person with a friendly countenance.’ Whenever I visit, Estelle always has a smile and cheerful way and that is absolutely how she lives each day, it is what she fulfills. Hashem has blessed her with generations, truly a dynasty to see ahead of her.”
Her appreciation of “lovely,” of design, places and people, is clear. Deepest in her heart are those filling her family tree’s branches.
“My kids, theirs and now the next generation are all intelligent, kind and good. I love talking with them and having them share all that’s going on. My kids ‘brought me up.’ It’s true and they absolutely are my life,” said the birthday girl.
“I’ve enjoyed more laughter than tears and I’ve been surrounded by family whom I admire beyond belief,” Estelle said.