Kathleen Rollins Snavely the longest-living Irish person, on record, photographed in November, 2000. Photo by: Syracuse University

The longest-living person in Irish history celebrated her 112th birthday


Kathleen Rollins Snavely the longest-living Irish person, on record, photographed in November, 2000. Photo by: Syracuse University

Nineteen-years-old, she left the Ireland of Michael Collins and the Irish War of Independence for America at the dawn of the Roaring 20s. Prohibition was in effect, and the economy was thriving. Warren G. Harding had been voted into office as president one year earlier, in the first national election to include the vote of women

Ellis Island arrivals record for September 30, 1921.

After eight days at sea, Kathleen arrived at Ellis Island on September 30, 1921. According to the arrivals record, she had $25.00 to her name (half the “recommended” amount) and was bound for Syracuse to stay with her maternal uncle, Jeremiah Moroney, who lived at 510 Marcellus Street.

Syracuse in the early 1920s

At that point, Syracuse was still a major manufacturing center. Kathleen quickly got a job at E.W. Edwards Department Store, earning, according to the Syracuse University archive, $5.00 for six-day work weeks, before moving up the retail ladder. In Syracuse, she met and married her first husband, Roxie E. Rollins. One of six children of a Canadian father and a mother born in Michigan, Rollins emigrated from Canada in 1907. His mother’s obituary, in the December 6, 1906 edition of the Syracuse Post-Standard, shows that the Rollins family were members of the First Baptist Church of Syracuse.

The Rollins family entry in the 1925 New York State Census

By the time of the 1925 Census, they were married and living with Roxie’s parents in Syracuse’s 19th Ward. Roxie ran a small but enterprising laundry service with business throughout the region, which afforded them their own residence by the time the census officers came knocking in 1930.
Just as the world economy was bottoming out in 1933, Roxie and Kathleen founded Seneca Dairy, opening their first store on South Salina Street. 

A Seneca Dairy ad from January, 1964 declares “You’ll have plenty of ‘drive,’ even at 50, if you fuel up each day with energy-packed Seneca Dairy Milk.” For Kathleen Snavely, it’s been more than doublWith both of them working seven days a week, Seneca Dairy made it through the Great Depression with over 40 employees, two local retail stores and an ice cream fountain. As Kathleen recalled in 2000, “Neither of us had a formal business education...We learned on the job, through experience. If you have a feeling for management and enjoy it, experience will give you the skills."

Roxie and Kathleen never had children. He died in 1968, at the age of 66. Two years later, at 68, Kathleen married her second husband, Jesse Clark Snavely, Jr., on February 28, 1970 in Rohrerstown, Pennsylvania. A widower, he had three sons, Jesse, Jere and James, with his first wife, Ella.

The Snavelys have solid roots in the Lancaster County, Pennsylvania area, going back to 1878, when Moses Snavely purchased a mill in Paradise Township. His son Jesse, father of the man Kathleen would marry, sold the mill in 1916 and bought a lumber, coal and feed business in Landisville. The company, J.C. Snavely & Sons, Inc. is run today by a fifth generation of Snavelys. Calls to the company’s headquarters were not returned.

Given Jesse’s role in the family business and the fact that they wed in Pennsylvania, it can be surmised that Kathleen parted ways with her adopted city for the years of their marriage. The date of his death is unclear, but by 2000 at the latest, Kathleen was back in Syracuse. In December, 2000, she made a gift of $1 million to the Syracuse University School of Management, in memory of Roxie.

“I can’t think of anything that would please him more than supporting a cause that would help other ambitious young people like us,” she said at the time.

Ireland is especially proud of its centenarians, sending a letter from the president, a commemorative coin and a check (currently €2,540) to each of its citizens who reach  the century mark, and continuing the letter and coin tradition each birthday thereafter. Last year, 423 centenarians received the bounty.

Ireland’s second-oldest living citizen is also an immigrant: Sister Mary Victor Waters, 109 (b. September 14, 1904), lives in Tenafly, New Jersey, at the retirement home of the Missionary Franciscan nuns. In an interview with NorthJersey.com, she also expressed some unease over the attention she receives for her age, saying “I’d be just as pleased if they forgot about my birthday.”


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