By Deb Silverthorn
Selma Bookatz’s smile is brighter than the candles that could celebrate each day of her long life. Turning 100 on Nov. 28, the Plano resident is filled with life, memories, joy and laughter and a twinkle in her eye.
“I am thrilled to be here and to know I get to celebrate with my family,” said Bookatz. “That’s what life is all about, enjoying family and building memories for all of us to hold on to.”
She is the daughter of Anne and Herman Kirschner of blessed memory. Her mother also reached her 100th birthday. The Kirschner family lived in Clarksville, Texas, near Texarkana, and Bookatz has fond memories of the family’s treks to Dallas to attend Congregation Tiferet Israel for the High Holidays.
A graduate of Clarksville High School’s class of 1939, Bookatz began college at Flora Stone Mather College in Cleveland. While she was in school, her parents moved to Cleveland to be close. When her mother needed gallbladder surgery, the surgeon, a handsome Dr. Allan Bookatz, was struck by his patient’s daughter. When he asked if he could ask her daughter out on a date, the response was a flat “no.”
The surgery was a success; so too ultimately was the love story. Bookatz moved to Dallas to complete her education at Southern Methodist University and worked at Neiman Marcus, where she was known as the “scarf lady.” Six years after their first meeting, the pair was reintroduced.
The two were smitten and they married on June 29, 1947. They took a six-week honeymoon, driving from Ohio to the West Coast in their two-door Ford coupe, which began their 57 year-marriage filled with ballroom dancing and twirls through life’s dance floor.
The couple made Dallas their home, and Allan spent 50 years as a general surgeon at Baylor Medical Center and more than four decades as professor at Baylor College of Dentistry and University of Texas Southwestern Medical School.
The couple expanded their family tree with sons Bart and Steve. The family drove many miles, vacationing from Seattle to Cape Cod, including fishing trips to Padre Island and Grand Teton National Park. Their children recall road trips where they caravanned with their mom’s parents, Gram and Poppie-O.
“Mom has always been this very charming woman whose lifelong directions to us have been to be nice, to be kind,’” said Bart. “It’s how she has always lived and she’s set the bar pretty high.”
When her boys were young, their careers ultimately surging for Bart as a periodontist and for Steve in retail, Bookatz was involved in every aspect of their lives, including serving as their Cub Scout den mother and cheering them on at almost every football game and track meet.
“We did so much as a family, whether it was going to the drive-in, the malt shop or just being together,” said Steve. “My parents set the example, with the relationship they had with my grandparents, of family togetherness as a priority.”
Once her sons moved out of the house, Bookatz began taking art classes, a clay dog she named “Jill” still a prized possession.
The Bookatzes and their sons were longtime members of Congregation Shearith Israel, and in the past 20 years she has also attended Temple Emanu-El with her family. She enjoys Babe’s Chicken, onion rings from anywhere and any good bite of bread.
A lifetime tennis fan, Bookatz was a singles and doubles champion for the Clarksville High School Tigers; she loves to watch Roger Federer and Anna Kournikova. She is a Life Member of Hadassah and participates in many activities at The Legacy Willow Bend, where she has lived since it opened in 2008.
“Selma is just the most caring and thoughtful person that I have the privilege to be around,” said The Legacy Willow Bend Executive Director Laura Levy. “The whole family shares an amazing relationship with us and I’ll keep praying for her to have many more healthy years. We love her dearly.”
Over the years, the family has grown to now include Bart’s wife Denise and their daughters Karen and Lauren; Steve’s wife Barbara and their children Brian and Michelle; and Michelle’s husband Stephen Falk. Great-grandchildren are Alexa, David and Samantha Falk and Julianne Bookatz. Not to be left out is her grand-pup, Frankie, who shares many snuggles when they are together. Frankie is Lauren’s dog, who visits “Daggie,” as her grandchildren call her.
“Daggie always made memories for us, from bubble baths to the best breakfasts over which we’d argue who got to use the ‘Snoopy’ plate. It’s always a good time when we are together,” Michelle said, speaking on behalf of the next generations. “Family is the most important thing to her and Shabbat dinner with her and Popie was a very special part of our growing up. It’s very beautiful that her four great-grandchildren have the opportunity to know and love her.”