As Westchester turns 75, Laura Histed — a local since 1960 — celebrates her 100th birthday

By Tiffany Walton

Laura Histed is planning “a lot of gab” for her 100th birthday celebration

Laura Histed is planning “a lot of gab” for her 100th birthday celebration

Westchester celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, a milestone that traces the beginnings of this small town in a big city back to the concrete foundations of its first homes being poured in late 1941.

Laura Histed, a 56-year resident of Westchester, has 25 more reasons to celebrate. She turns 100 years old this week.

The year Histed was born, World War I raged in Europe, Woodrow Wilson was president and Norman Rockwell did his first cover for The Saturday Evening Post.

Speaking with her last weekend was a little bit like traveling back in time — a quick capsule ride into Westchester’s past and that of small-town America in general.

She represents the simple elegance of a life younger people like me will never experience, except for watching old Hollywood movies. It’s the elegance of old-fashioned fun that our grandmothers alluded to — like finding small treasures in the dime store and attending glorious events that no longer exist.

Histed has long been an active member of the Westchester community, participating in the local PTA as well as the Westchester Woman’s Club, where she is now an honorary member.

On Tuesday, July 26, Histed will be joining another group: the Centenarian Club.

When asked if she has anything special planned, she says, “No, just a lot of gab.”

Three days before her actual big day, however, friends and family — 52 of them already on the list — will throw Histed a birthday party in the backyard of her Westchester home.

The theme is high tea, and Histed has already selected three outfits she’s considering. The main dilemma is whether to wear a long dress or a pantsuit.

Fashion has long held an important place in Histed’s life. In 1984, when her husband Charles died, this longtime stay-at-home mom went to work at The Broadway, a large department store (kind of like a Nordstrom) that was located on Sepulveda Boulevard (where Kohl’s is today) from 1949 to 1990.

With a smile, she recalls tagging items for sale throughout the various departments of The Broadway. But her favorite part was the “marking room,” an area where she and a group of friends who also worked at the store would go to see all the items that were being reduced.

“I spent most of my money shopping at The Broadway,” she says with a laugh.

At least one of the ladies she worked with is coming to the party.

Histed also fondly remembers two former downtown movie theaters: The Loyola and The Paradise. Both have now been turned into medical buildings, but have maintained their stately facades.

Down-to-earth, jovial and charismatic in an understated way, Histed smiles warmly as she speaks of her memories. A shy twinkle in her eye and a girlish way about her makes you want to ask, “and what else? And then, what happened?”  She seems to love people and community, especially the Westchester community, and the simplicities of life.

Histed, her husband and their three children arrived in Westchester from Cleveland, Ohio, in 1960. Her husband’s employer had transferred him to Westchester, and Histed immediately felt comfortable in her new surroundings.

“Westchester was more or less like what I had left in Ohio; things were the same, essentially. It looked like a small country town, but The Broadway was here,” she said. “Everyone in Westchester was so social. It made me feel welcome. And I especially liked the weather.”

Histed and her family took to the social atmosphere and promptly joined the Westchester Methodist Church, where she is still a member.

And the ladies she worked with at The Broadway, well, they get together for lunch about once a year.

Since retirement, she’s also become a Wednesday-evening Canasta group regular.

So how does Histed feel about turning the big 100?

“It still amazes me. I never thought I’d live this long,” she said. “I don’t know why I reached this age. I was surprised one day when I realized that I was getting older.”

But there is one small piece of advice she’d like to share, a suggestion as simply elegant as she is: “Be kind to
one another.”