Lillian Benson is always on the move. It’s the secret to staying young, she tells me. And her life’s stories demonstrate that.
Lillian was born in San Francisco as the third of three daughters. Her own mother, Freida Sussman, immigrated to the U.S. from Kiev, Russia, at just 19 years old. Freida came to the country by herself, through Ellis Island, and immediately set to work establishing herself as a tailor. She eventually relocated from New York to St. Louis, where she met Lillian’s father, and then to California.
Growing up, Lillian dealt with serious asthma, and as a result lived in many homes all around the Bay Area as doctors tried to advise her of the best climate for her breathing. Despite her frequent childhood moves, Lillian always stayed rooted to San Francisco, and was even one of the first people to walk across the Golden Gate Bridge the day it opened in 1937.
When she was older, Lillian attended Balboa High School, commuting each day by streetcar from her home in Daly City. After graduation, her mother, who by that time had her own tailor shop, spied a handsome young man about Lillian’s age in her store. She struck up a conversation and invited him to a family dinner. Lillian and the boy from the store, Leon, found they had many similar interests and began dating, eventually marrying and moving to their own home in the City. Three children soon followed – two boys, Paul and Mark, and a daughter, Janette. Lillian stayed home to raise the children when they were small, but once her youngest was a few years into grade school, she headed to work as a typist, taking two buses each way to get to her job in the heart of the City.
Lillian has always loved zipping around the City – by streetcar, bus, or car. In fact, when it was time for each of her three children to learn to drive, it was Lillian, not Leon, who served as their teacher – and not an easy one, at that.
“To teach me how to drive in San Francisco, she had me take a manual transmission car to the top of the steepest hill she could find, Lombard Street, and told me to go for it. I was panicked!” daughter Janette recalls.
“She’s smart,” Lillian says of her daughter. “I totally trusted her.”
“She knew how to give her children challenges, and then guide us to accomplish them,” Janette says, smiling.
Even after retirement, Lillian stayed on the go. She and her husband traveled extensively, seeing much of the world. When they were home, they would end each day with a long walk around Lake Merced.
Since joining the Sterling Court community 6 months ago, Lillian has settled in well. She still makes it a point to walk daily. Her daughter reports, “She goes out and walks around the block every day. She’s feisty. The sidewalks aren’t even, and it doesn’t stop her. She just keeps going.”
Read this article and more in our January newsletter.
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