WEST CAPE MAY – Barbara Freels, of West Cape May, spent her career working at Bellevue Hospital, in the Kips Bay neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City, which is known as the oldest public hospital in the U.S.
Freels also celebrated a longevity milestone at her 100th birthday party at The Lobster House March 11.
Freels worked as a hospital dispatcher for most of her career before retiring to West Cape May in 1988 at the age of 65. However, it was a homecoming of sorts.
Although born in New York, she came to West Cape May when she was 5, and, according to the book “Black Voices of Cape May,” she started attending the West Cape May Annex School under Mr. William Moore.
“Mr. Moore’s Annex,” as she called it in the book, was the three-room school for Black children. Freels said the school for White children was next door, and, at age 5, she never questioned the existence of separate schools for the Black and White children.
Born Barbara Smith, March 8, 1923, in New York’s Harlem district, Freels would return there after finishing her schooling in Cape May. She would begin her career at Bellevue, but she also worked as a USO hostess, which is how she met, and later married, Chester Freels, who was a merchant marine. Chester Freels later became a postal worker.
They raised sons in Queens and the Bronx. Barbara Freels retired, and she and her husband moved to West Cape May, where Freels’ mother had spent most of her life.
After her retirement at 65, Freels worked at the Cape May Point State Park as a guide. She continued riding her bike to the state park until she retired again at 80.
Barbara and Chester Freels were married 75 years.
Barbara Freels had just one sibling, a younger brother, named Victor McDonald, who passed away in his 70s.
When asked to what she attributes her long life, Freels said, “Stay out of the doctor’s office. Take care of your own health. Only go to the doctor in an emergency.”
According to Freels’ daughter-in-law, Linda Freels, her mother-in-law makes a practice of doing 50 toe touches every day. This comes after many years of walking and riding a bicycle in the area.
“She was an avid swimmer in the ocean for many years,” Linda Freels said.
Among other things, Barbara Freels was also a Dancing Granny, a local group of dancing seniors who performed at various events. Still feeling it, she got up and danced at her 100th birthday party, which was attended by over 100 people.
Linda Freels said the most important things to her mother-in-law were her family and faith. The family includes four sons, eight grandchildren, and 18 great-grandchildren.
She is a longtime member of the Macedonia Baptist Church in Cape May. Her only pastime is reading her Bible.
“She’s an amazing lady. She still lives independently, but there is a staff of people who help her out,” Linda Freels said.
As for Barbara Freels, her verse to live by is, “The joy of the Lord is my strength.”
Contact the author, Christopher South, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 609-886-8600, ext. 128.
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