Scotia man celebrates 107th birthday at Schenectady’s State Street Presbyterian Church

George Thiessen shows off a "Happy Birthday" singing teddy bear as his family gathers
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George Thiessen shows off a "Happy Birthday" singing teddy bear as his family gathers around him for a photo.

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SCOTIA – George Thiessen of Scotia turns 107 years old this Tuesday. On Saturday, he celebrated alongside a plethora of family members across five generations. 

Thiessen grew up in Schenectady and has been attending State Street Presbyterian Church for over a century.

“The first time I came here was in a baby carriage,” he said.

So there was no place more fitting for his birthday party. Dozens of family members gathered in the church’s Hamilton Hall for an afternoon of food and fun.

Thiessen can still recall even some of the earliest years of his life. For his 3rd birthday his mother asked him what flavor of cake he wanted.

“I said, ‘orange.’ and you know what? I got it,” the centenarian said.

This year, he happily ate a chocolate cake with Bavarian cream.

Thiessen is the patriarch of a big family, but that’s not the only place he’s served as a powerhouse. His presence in the church community is not to be forgotten.

“He was a major force,” said his daughter-in-law, Rosemary Pannone.

Thiessen was a church organist, as well as a member of the choir. Blanketing the walls of Hamilton Hall is a mural of churchgoers and nature scenes. Painted just above the entrance is a church choir. One of the singers depicted is Thiessen.

“When I first came to this church, George and Betty were the first to welcome me,” said Peggy Sturtevant, friend of the family. “This church is his home, and he said ‘Welcome home.’ ”

Thiessen cared for his wife Betty each and every day before she passed away. He made daily visits to the nursing home to feed her and talk to her. Family is the other tenet in his long life. His great grandchildren appreciate the connection with the older generation.

Haileigh Thiessen is 16, and especially appreciated her great grandfather’s collection of stories to tell.

“Sometimes my mom and I will go over for dinner and we’ll all be talking, then he’ll bust out with a story,’ Haileigh said. “And we always listen.”

One of the memorable stories shared at the event was of the time a friend mentioned to Thiessen that he wanted a pipe organ. Thiessen knew where to get one in Albany’s warehouse district, and had it picked up and delivered to the friend. He was able to recall the precise location due to his clear recollection of the Nipper the Dog statue that distinguished the building across the street.

His own tales are not the end of his storytelling abilities. Several family members lamented an old tradition of the whole family gathering at Thiessen’s home for his annual recitation of “The Night Before Christmas.

“It was so lively and animated,” said Allyson Thiessen. “I took my kids every year.”

Thiessen also enjoyed writing letters to his grandchildren, his way of keeping in touch the old-fashioned way. When Haileigh spent some time in North Carolina, she looked forward to her grandfather’s letters, and would reply with her own.

The party was organized by Thiessen’s son Paul and Paul’s wife, Theresa. The couple also lives with Thiessen, with Paul providing much of his daily care.

Each day, Paul wakes up bright and early to prepare breakfast and help his father get ready for the day before heading off to work for a few hours.

“You learn more from your grandparents,” Paul said. “Most people won’t ever see the industry growth he has seen.”

Thiessen was an engineer, and worked his entire career at General Electric. Each year, the celebration is Paul and Theresa’s gift to Thiessen.

“It’s family,” Theresa said. “That’s the best gift we can give him.”

Categories: -News-, News, Schenectady, Schenectady County, Scotia Glenville

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