World War II veteran Maureen Gabriel, a 31-year resident of Elk Grove, will soon join a select group of citizens: centenarians. Gabriel turns 100 years old on July 29.
To celebrate this milestone, a large group of her family and friends will gather for a party at her church this weekend.
A Navy woman
While reviewing some of her life experiences with the Citizen last week, Gabriel recalled joining the U.S. Navy in 1944.
“My sister Betty went into the Navy, and she was stationed out here in San Francisco,” she said. “She was calling up all the time. She was lonely, so I told my mother, ‘I’m going to go into the Navy to take care of her.’ So, I went down and enlisted.”
Gabriel was stationed at the Hunter’s Point naval shipyard in San Francisco, where she worked in the planning department.
“The ships would come in all shot up and (would need) a lot of repair (work done) on them,” Gabriel recalled. “There was advanced planning, and they had to have estimates, and we correlated all the estimates and everything, and made up reports for the officers when they came ashore.”
Gabriel said that because of her love for San Francisco, she continued to work at the shipyard following the war.
“I got out on a Sunday (in 1945), and went back in the same job and stayed there for 29 years until (President Richard) Nixon closed the shipyard,” she said. “They started to close shipyards, and I retired. I was one year short of age for full retirement years.”
With her love for the military and her country, Gabriel has participated in various veterans activities, including parades in Sacramento. She also marched in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York in 1944, while she was in boot camp.
Gabriel’s secret to longevity
“I always told everybody my longevity is because I never got married and didn’t have any kids,” Gabriel said when asked about her long life. “My sisters and brothers all got married, and I couldn’t leave my mother alone. I took care of my mother after everybody left. We were a very close family, always having Easter, Christmas, Thanksgiving together.”
Gabriel added that she came close to getting married on two occasions.
She noted that a man she was “crazy about” died in an accident while operating heavy equipment in Connecticut.
On another occasion, she met a man who was present during the December 7, 1941, Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“He wanted me to marry him, so I would get his pension, because he was a supervisor with a good pension,” she said. “But he got cancer, and he died.”
Despite approaching 100 years old, Gabriel said she is in no hurry to find a companion.
“Hey, I made it this far without a man; I can go even a little further,” she said.
Growing up in Connecticut
Gabriel was the third oldest of the six children of Walter and Gertrude Gabriel. She said her ancestors came from New Brunswick on her mother’s side of the family, and from Germany, France, and Ireland on her father’s side.
Gabriel said her father died when she was very young.
“My father was a policeman, but we lost him when I was 10 years old,” she said.
With the death of her father, Gabriel said her mother, with assistance from one of her aunts, worked to raise all six of her children.
Caring for her children was challenging for Gertrude, since she was also the sole financial provider for her family.
“My mother was a wonderful woman, very tough,” Gabriel said. “She would walk to work, come home at noon to feed us, walk back to work and then come home at night. She walked all the time. I think that has a lot to do with our longevity in our family, because we walked everywhere. We didn’t have money for buses or trolleys or anything.”
Gabriel, whose mother lived to be 92 years old, is the last survivor of her immediate family.
Life in Sacramento, Elk Grove
After living in Pacifica, Gabriel moved to the Rosemont area of Sacramento in 1956.
Gabriel recalled becoming a resident of Elk Grove 31 years later.
An acquaintance “was always talking about Elk Grove,” she said. “I said, ‘Where’s Elk Grove?’
“She said, ‘From where you are, you can go straight down Elk Grove-Florin Road, and before you get to a park and a church down there, the model homes are down there.’
“One Sunday after Mass, that’s what we did. I walked (into a house) with my mother, and I said, ‘This is our next house.’ So, that’s how I moved to Elk Grove.”