ROCHESTER — Julia Sierra celebrated her 104th birthday surrounded by family and friends.
The native of Caguas, Puerto Rico, has outlived five of her 10 children and her husband. Her granddaughter, Arianda Molina-Collins, said that she is one of more than 50 grandchildren.
Sierra lives at St. John’s Home. Her granddaughter, Caroline Galindo, also works there as a nurse where her father and Sierra’s son-in-law, Eusevio Aponte, also is a resident.
Sierra moved to Rochester in the early 1960s with the help of her son, Eugenio, who was the first of her children to live in the area. Her husband, Vangelio Molina, remained in Puerto Rico and came to visit for months at a time until he died in his mid-80s. They married when she was 16. Sierra could not recall the year he died.
She said that the secret to her long life, though, is simple. She lived a clean life.
"I don’t have any vices," she said proudly. "I never had a single vice."
As family members entered the recreation room on the fifth floor for the Jan. 31 celebration, they came over to Sierra, bent down and kissed her as they asked for her blessing. While she walks with a walker and has an oxygen tank to give her a needed boost, Golindo said that her grandmother is in overall good health.
During the party, Sierra partook of the traditional roasted pork, rice and birthday cake prepared by Galindo, Molina-Collins and one of their aunts.
"It is all about her," said Golindo, who organized the festivities. "My grandmother is very humble."
The party was originally supposed to be held in a bigger room at the facility, but Sierra would not have it.
"I am not feeling very well," she said. "I don’t feel like myself."
Sierra said that she worked for many years on the island sewing shirts for a local business owner beginning at age of 8. At that time, she never thought she’d live such a long life, she noted.
"When I was 8 years old, I didn’t (think) I’d even reach 40," she added with a smile.
Many of her family members said they are happy to have had her around for so long. They come by to visit and walk with her to get coffee at the end of her hall.
Her son, Perfecto Molina, said that he is proud of his mother and tries to keep her walking as much as possible. She was living with him until she moved to St. John’s when she was 101.
"I am happy she is still with us," he said. "God has blessed me with 104 years."
Her family was part of the Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church neighborhood, where they lived and worshipped, said Father Laurence Tracy, who also was on hand to say a prayer and visit with Sierra and her family. And those family members are grateful for every year they are able to continue getting together to celebrate Sierra’s amazing life, said Galindo.
"She’s just been so instrumental in showing us what it’s really like to grow old gracefully," she added. "And faith has taken her and brought her to where she is. … We celebrate life."