HAPPY 100th BIRTHDAY, MARY
MCKENZIE! Befitting the importance of the event,
Mary’s daughters Doris Cretan
of Sunol, Barbara Anderson
of Clayton and Norma Yaglijian of Oakland, along with Doris’
husband, Irv, gave Mary a very special birthday party. The fete was held
on December 16, the day after Mary’s birthday, and over 135
friends and relatives attended the party at St. Vartan Armenian
Church Hall in Oakland.
Mary came to America 95 years ago and settled in Fresno before moving
to Oakland, where she has spent most of her life since. Mary
and her husband, Albert Panosian, raised Barbara, Norma, and
Doris, as well as Paul, a nephew
the family adopted when he was eight and orphaned
in war torn Armenia. Doris says of Paul, who passed away two
years ago, “He was an instant older brother and the family clown.
I really miss him.”
Mary and Albert worked together in his restaurant business – he had one
in Oakland and another in Sacramento – until he passed away
in 1932, after which Mary continued to run Commercial Cafeteria
in Oakland. “Her restaurant became a home away from home for
many,” Doris said. “There was a hotel next door and the bachelors
who lived there ate three meals a day at Mom’s.” After she gave
up the restaurant, Mary transferred her cooking talents to St.
Vartan, where she cooked and supervised countless meals.
Contrary to the Scottish ring of the guest of honor’s name, the family
is Armenian – Mary’s Armenian name is Zarohi, and the McKenzie
comes from her late husband, Donald, to whom she was married from 1935
until his death in 1970. As did all her family members, Donald
benefited from Mary’s skill in the kitchen, finding little home-baked
pies in his lunch each day.
Doris describes her mom as a “natural gourmet cook,” and to honor her
talent and years in the restaurant business, Mary’s grandchildren
served at her party wearing aprons emblazoned with “Mary’s Cafeteria.”
The guests were treated to classic Armenian dishes prepared
by Ed Godoshian,
family friend and owner of Father Nature’s Shed in Danville.
They also kicked up their heels in Armenian dances to music
played on traditional instruments.
Mary’s birthday was noted in letters from the White House and the Governor’s
Mansion, as well as in a glowing tribute by Father
Mesrob, the priest at St. Vartan. One of Mary’s closest
friends, Lucy Mirigian,
95, shared some amusing stories of their many shared adventures.
It is certainly not possible to sum up a century of life in a few words,
but Doris and her sisters did their best when designing a custom
candy wrapper for the chocolate bars given out as party favors.
Bearing a color picture of Mary, the wrapper lists as “nutritional
facts”: “1 lovely lady, 3 children, 9 grandchildren, 8 great-grandchildren.”
There is also a “recipe” on the back, which instructs, “Combine 100 years
of wisdom with a generous portion of fun and laughter. Mix in
an energetic attitude and lots of love. Add special time for
family and friends. Toss in a competitive card player and a
gourmet cook. Mix together. Yield: One great lady with a heart
From all accounts, Mary thoroughly enjoyed her celebration. She was especially
pleased to see so many of her neighbors – she moved into a retirement
home in Castro Valley five years ago – and relatives who traveled
from Arizona for the event. And if you were thinking her cooking
days might be over, Mary’s was in Sunol over the weekend at
Doris and Irv’s, cooking up a batch of monti – little meat-filled
pasta canoes in broth – and this writer has been promised a
taste. Congratulations to an inspiring lady, and best wishes
for many more birthdays to come.