Last Friday was a very special day for Ms. Kitty Knittel. Surrounded by friends and family on the deck of the Chester YMCA’s pool, she celebrated her 98th birthday. Miss Kitty, as her friends in the H20 Kids group call her, swims with the “Just My Speed and Arthritis Class” three days a week. She joined the group around two years ago after moving to the area to be close to her daughter. Her party followed the swim class and most of the class members joined in the celebration. “I am thankful to get around like I do,” she said during her party. “I enjoy life.” And if she can continue as she is doing she added, “I will just be happy.”
Fellow swim mate, Lois Boone said, “She is so enthusiastic about coming into the pool.” Boone, 76, has been a member of the group for three years.
Dale Buonconsiglio is the water instructor for the H20 Kids group. “This is a special birthday,” she said. “We always celebrate birthdays once a month for the birthdays in the month, but everyone felt a special celebration was needed for Miss Kitty.” “They [the members of the swim program] came up with the H2O Kids name. We are Dale and the H2O Kids.” This group not only has physical exercise time together, but they also socialize outside of pool time. “We feel socializing is just as important as exercise. Some of these people are really isolated.”
Buonconsiglio said there are anywhere from 150 to 160 members in the group. Divided up into four classes, she teaches all four classes. “I see them come in and everything hurts and they leave with a smile,” she said. “I love my job. I am so lucky.”
There is a big social committee for the group that keep up with the birthdays and organizing outside events.“They are marvelous,” she said. “Along with the birthday celebrations they have lunch together once a month, ice cream socials, fish fry’s and special projects. They also take care of each other if one is in the hospital or out ill. They can be as central as they want or as remote. It is funny how they manage to pull each other out [to the events outside of pool time.] My job is to help them stay on track and that they don’t do anything that is not safe.”
Knittel said in her younger days she would swim in the ocean. She took up swimming again when arthritis set in her knees about nine or 10 years ago. “She still likes to socialize and party,” said her daughter, Kathy Trent, who also attended the party. “She is really special. Still irons and cooks. The only thing she doesn’t do is the yard work and that is only because of her knees.”
Knittel was presented a banner with a drawing of two arms signed by all of her swimmates. The message on the banner said, “Happy 98th Birthday - This hug is for you.” She also had the tune, “Isn’t She Lovely,” played on the saxophone by the Y’s Membership Director, Marco Callender.
Her key to a long life, she said, “Take one day at a time. That is all we have.”