Estelle French didn’t think she did anything special last week. But to her friends and staff of Harbor Court in Rocky River, turning 102 needed to be celebrated.

“We love Estelle here,” said Harbor Court’s Executive Director Cyndy Bare. “We knew we had to celebrate her birthday like this because this doesn’t happen often and especially in a pandemic, it’s nice to have something good to celebrate.”

The Harbor Court on Center Ridge Road staff decided the best way to celebrate French’s milestone was by holding a car “parade” in the parking lot on Friday, July 17. Participants in the parade were a mix of friends, family and members of the Rocky River Fire Department. About 10 cars and a fire engine started in the rear parking lot and rounded up to the front of the building. Drivers honked the horns and yelled “Happy Birthday” and “Congratulations” out the windows of cars decorated with balloons and signs. Afterward, a small party with cake and drinks was held in the lobby.

“It makes me feel old,” Jeff French, her 69-year-old son, said. “I think this was a great idea and I’m really happy that she’s a part of this neighborhood.”

French is young at heart. Living on the fourth floor of the complex, she uses the stairs every day instead of the elevator. Her favorite thing to do is playing bingo and telling stories about her life to anyone who will listen. While details may be foggy, her life’s story is worth its retelling.

French was born on July 18, 1918. Her mother died when she was young. She was raised in the Home of the Holy Family at 18120 Puritas Ave. She studied at St. Patrick’s West Park.

She finished her studies at West Tech High School and eventually got a job working as a switchboard operator for The May Company. She took orders over the phone and delivered them to the retail workers for customer pickup, French said.

She met her husband Roger and they married in 1941, before he went to fight in the Pacific Theater during World War II for the United States Army Air Corps.

Her fondest memory growing up in Cleveland was receiving her First Communion at St. Patrick’s because it made her feel a part of something bigger than herself, she said.

As the fire department rounded the corner out of the complex’s parking lot, they turned on their sirens, one last congratulations. French’s secret to a long life is just to take one step at a time. Even though her turning 102 happened a few days ago, she’s planning her next milestone, age 103.

“I didn’t put much thought into this. It’s like, all of the sudden I was 100 and I thought to myself ‘where did the time go?’,” French said. “All I can say is, live the best life you possibly can; 102 is no big deal, I just got lucky.”

Contact this reporter at or 216-307-6614.

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