Westmere's 'Gram' turning 100

The Enterprise –– Michael Koff

Happy times: Members of the Westmere Fire Department Ladies’ Auxiliary surround Vera Brooks, a member herself, on Sunday as they stand in front of her birthday cake, celebrating 100 years.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

The center of attention: Vera Brooks, center, is greeted by members of the ladies’ auxiliary of the Westmere Fire Department Sunday at a party the auxiliary hosted to celebrate her 100th birthday. Behind her, at left, is her daughter-in-law, Trudy Brooks, who said Vera Brooks has volunteered with the fire department for 67 years. “She’s always helpful,” said Trudy Brooks.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

All smiles: Vera Brooks, sitting at right, is surrounded by her family at a birthday party last Sunday at the Westmere firehouse. Seated next to her is her granddaughter Janine Brooks with her 3-year-old daughter, Mrs. Brooks’s great-granddaughter, Allison Brooks, in her lap. Standing behind them are, from left, her daughter-in-law, Trudy Brooks, Jeffrey Brooks, Chloe Sullivan, Charlie Brooks, Pamela Sullivan, and Kim Whalen.

GUILDERLAND — Vera Brooks has helped others all of her long life.

“She’s very active. She can name people from way back. She’s always helpful,” said her daughter-in-law, Trudy Brooks. “She’s been a volunteer her whole life. She’s a beautiful seamstress and always made children’s outfits for those who need them. She’s worked with the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, and cooked and volunteered with the fire department for 67 years.”

Mrs. Brooks is turning 100 on Friday, Oct. 4, and people are eager to help her celebrate the century mark. Last weekend, the ladies’ auxiliary of the Westmere Fire Department honored her with six different cakes. She’s been an auxiliary member since her late husband joined the department, and she even sewed the women’s uniforms.

On Friday, her actual natal day, there will be a party at Town Hall where Mrs. Brooks is active with the Guilderland Seniors.

She lives happily on her own in her Guilderland home of many years, just off Western Avenue in Westmere, surrounded by family.

“I’ve had a good life,” she said this week.

Mrs. Brooks was born and raised in Nova Scotia, with a sister and a brother. Her mother was a homemaker and her father was a guide, taking visitors into the woods and performing such feats as log-rolling on the water.

She came to Albany in the depths of the Great Depression when a friend told her she had a job for her.

“I arrived in 1936 on my birthday,” recalled Mrs. Brooks. She worked taking care of a 2-year-old girl whose mother had a job that took her out of the house.

A mail mix-up caused Mrs. Brooks to meet the man who would become her husband, Charles Brooks. They had the very same last name, even spelled the same way, and lived across Western Avenue from each other.

“My mail got shipped to his mailbox,” recalled Mrs. Brooks. “It took a couple of trips,” she said of the mail retrieval before romance bloomed.

The couple eloped in 1938. She was Catholic and he was a member of the Methodist Church in McKownville. “I had no family here. I had no one to give me away,” said Mrs. Brooks.

The couple married at St. Vincent’s in Albany and settled, at first, on Johnston Road in Guilderland. Their union lasted 66 years, ending only with his death.

When they were first married, Mr. Brooks worked as an auto mechanic, she said. Later, he had a pig farm by Rapp and Gipp roads.

They had one child, a son, also named Charles. He remembers, in the 1940s, when he was very little, going to visit his mother’s family in Nova Scotia, riding a ferryboat with all of its lights out at night because of World War II.

Mrs. Brooks worked as a cook and housekeeper and also worked selling fabrics at a series of stores, including Meyer’s, Land of Fabrics, and Singer’s.

“I made many, many clothes for needy children,” she said.

She also made tiny clothes for dolls, and sold them.

What’s behind her long and active life?

“I work hard and enjoy life,” said Mrs. Brooks without hesitation.

She goes to activities at Town Hall for the Guilderland Seniors. And she still does her own cooking and baking.

“We come over to her house for dinner,” says her son who lives next door.

Her granddaughter now lives in a house behind hers, which used to be let out to renters.

“It was small so there were college students living there or newlyweds,” said her daughter-in-law. “They were people who couldn’t travel home for the holidays.”

So, over the years, Mrs. Brooks always made them welcome at her table.

“She’s like a grandmother to so many people,” said Trudy Brooks. “Everybody calls her Gram.”

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