LYONS – There aren’t too many people who have the chance of turning 100 years old once in their lifetimes.
But Esteban Fernandez isn’t like most people. The Lyons resident recently had the privilege of hitting the century mark twice.
No, he’s not fooling.
“I was born in Puerto Rico,” Fernandez said. “My real birthday is April 1; that was when I was born. But my father didn’t register me until a month later. I had to go by the legal date of May 3.”
Family members consider it less important which date is commemorated as Fernandez’s birthday as long as they mark the occasion in some way, she said.
“We had a big party at my house,” Danielle Fernandez said when asked how her grandfather’s 100th birthday was celebrated. “It was a nice open house. We all had fun.”
The Golden Years Retirement Center in Lyons has been Fernandez’s home for the past eight years. He lived in North Riverside about 20 years prior to that, he said.
Fernandez moved to New York from Puerto Rico when he was 9, he said. When asked what he did for a living after moving to New York, Fernandez said, “Anything I could find.”
Fernandez served in the U.S. Army during World War II. Afterward, he moved to the Chicago area.
He worked as a chef at the Palmer House. Officials for a union representing the culinary industry approached Fernandez about working for them.
“I enjoyed my work when I was working for the union, because I enjoy working with people,” Fernandez said. “I try to help them as much as possible.”
Fernandez said he worked for the union from the late 1940s until he retired in 1980. He and his wife, Anna, were married in 1945. They raised two daughters, Joanne and Yolanda, and had three grandchildren: Danielle, Jennifer and Sarah. Fernandez said his wife died about 14 years ago.
“When I was young, I always took care of myself. ... No smoking; no drinking,” Fernandez said when asked for his secret to a long life. “Now, I have my granddaughters. They take good care of me and they give me a push to live longer.”