Rachel Fox and Jean Becker
Rachel Fox (left) and Jean Becker (right). (Courtesy of JSL)

JSL and JFS are doing what they can to make sure their residents make sure their vote counts. 

Rachel Fox is, to say the least, a very experienced member of the electorate. With her absentee ballot already mailed in, she can now say that since she was 21 years old, she has voted for president 23 times. No, she didn’t fraudulently vote more than once for the same candidate. The fact is, when you’re over 105 years old, you get a lot of opportunities to cast your vote.

Rachel was born on June 11, 1915, five years prior to women having the right to vote and three years prior to the first pandemic of her lifetime. Unfortunately, some Black women would have to wait another 50 years for the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to secure their rightful place in the voting booth.

When I spoke to Rachel on the phone a few days ago, I learned that she’s participated in every election since she voted in 1936 to re-elect FDR to a second term. My brain is not very big, but I’m still having trouble wrapping that fact around it.

For Rachel, the current voting process actually began months ago, pre-coronavirus, when Debbie Binder, West Bloomfield Township Clerk, paid a visit to Jewish Senior Life (JSL) residents on the Eugene and Marcia Applebaum Jewish Community Campus. 

“I routinely visited our senior housing facilities to ensure residents were registered and/or had the opportunity to complete their absentee voter applications,” Binder said. “Our goal is to enable access to the ballot for all of our residents, and we will do whatever is permissible in adherence to state and federal election law to ensure our residents have access to free and fair elections. That includes curbside service to seniors who are able to secure a ride to Town Hall.” [Call the West Bloomfield Clerk’s office for more information: (248) 451-4848.]

Rachel, who lives in the Fleischman Residence, took advantage of signing up for a ballot, and the rest is presidential election history. By the way, the 105-year old told me she does more than just exercise her right to vote — she literally still exercises in the comfort of her own apartment. She takes advantage of Touchtown, an exclusive in-house program offered to residents throughout JSL communities to stay connected, especially during these difficult times.

Centenarian Votes

Rachel Fox is not JSL’s only civic-minded centenarian. The day I spoke with Meer resident Jean Becker, she was waiting for a driver to take her to the West Bloomfield Township Hall to drop off her ballot in person. Born on April 29, 1920, she was a 100-year-old on her way to cast her vote at the West Bloomfield Clerk’s office over 100 years after the 19th Amendment was ratified. Incredible.

Jean is a firecracker of a personality. She is always dressed to the nines and it turns out, like Rachel Fox, exercising her right to vote is not her only exercise regimen. Jean recently resumed her Monday through Friday routine of being dropped off at the Orchard Mall in West Bloomfield to walk for an hour and a half.

Jean did offer some comforting words when I asked her what it was like at 100 years old to be voting in what is arguably the most contentious and divisive election in our nation’s history. “We have to accept what we get,” she said of the outcome of the election. “Unless you want to be miserable, and you want to go off the deep end. I mean, we will have to get along with that, there’s nothing else we can do.”

Sage advice. But what would you expect from a woman with 100 years of life experience?

Seniors at all JSL residences, on both their West Bloomfield and Oak Park campuses, have received tremendous support from their building administrators when it comes to safe and timely voting. “We have a lot of civic-minded residents, and we send a lot of letters,” says Tracey Proghovnick, director of residential marketing for Jewish Senior Life.

The letters remind residents they should have received their absentee ballot by Oct. 16, that there are strict rules to adhere to about who can handle their ballot, that no postage is necessary to mail your ballot back, and that shuttles will be made available for those residents who want to deliver their ballots in person.

“We also have something called ‘Voice Friend,’” said Tracey, “a phone call system where we can inform residents and families via voicemail about things going on at JSL, and voting is a topic.” Residents are always encouraged to call their building’s administrators or their clerk’s office with any election-related questions. 

JFS Offers Rides

Jewish Family Service (JFS) is also offering support. To that end, JFS is offering free rides to Oakland County residents to drop off their absentee ballots at designated drop-off points prior to Election Day. Rides are subject to availability. Call JFS at (248) 592-2266 for further details.

Helping their residents legally vote is, of course, only one of many challenges senior communities have had to face during the coronavirus crisis. There’s also the ever-evolving effort needed to maneuver around recent Michigan Supreme Court rulings invalidating Gov. Whitmer’s COVID-19 executive orders protecting residents and staff. On the heels of that, there are new, recently issued regulations by the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services to help shore up the holes in regulations left by those rulings. Understanding all of that in this tumultuous election year has to be like trying to navigate around bumper cars in a carnival ride — absent the same level of fun.

Rachel Fox is fully aware of the drama surrounding this year’s election. “People are so confused,” she told me. “They don’t know where to turn.”

Fortunately, at 105 years old she has remained patriotic and not apathetic as evidenced by her casting a vote in her 23rd presidential election, an effort West Bloomfield Township Clerk Debbie Binder never takes for granted. “Our seniors are critical in modeling the importance of voting to the next generations,” said Debbie. “They truly understand the value of their voice.”  

That sentiment was further reinforced just prior to my submitting this column. That’s when I received confirmation that Rachel’s 100-year old brother Max Elkin, of Minneapolis, who still drives, had mailed in his absentee ballot, too.

Need any further incentive to do your civic duty? Vote. Now.

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