100 candles for two Rochester friends born four days apart
Two Rochester women, born half a world away, four days apart, celebrated their 100th birthday together.
ROCHESTER — One hundred years ago this month, half a world away, Margaret Fusselman and Prem Lata (Khosla) Deep were born.
On Sunday, to mark their 100th birthdays, the two continued a 16-year tradition of celebrating together at Fontaine Towers in downtown Rochester.
“She’s my younger sister,” Deep said of Fusselman. “I tell her to do something, she does it.”
Deep was born Aug. 2, 1922 in northern India. Fusselman was born in Olmsted County Aug. 6, 1922. Their lives converged at Fontaine Towers about 16 years ago when Deep approached Fusselman to join a walking group of Towers residents that Deep had helped establish.
The two shared some memories before their party began Sunday. Fusselman recalled growing up on a farm outside Pine Island. Her family didn’t have indoor plumbing or a car. They had one pump at a well for all their water for cooking, laundry and bathing. They would ride a horse when they needed to go into neighboring Pine Island or Douglas. Unable to find transportation to school, Fusselman didn’t attend high school and began working at age 14.
Deep finished high school at age 12. She recalls witnessing cruel acts carried out by British forces as India won independence from the British Empire in 1947. The former British India was divided into two countries — Pakistan and India and the two countries went to war for control over the Kashmir region. Deep recalls seeing atrocities carried out by both sides of the conflict.
“Such ugly scenes, you could never see but you saw that,” she said.
Deep worked as a journalist relaying taped radio broadcasts from the U.S. to India for Voice of America News. She came to the U.S. in 1963. Her son, Sundeep Khosla, is a researcher and consultant at Mayo Clinic. Deep said she moved around the U.S. following her son’s studies and professional career.
Fusselman finished high school with a GED when she was in her mid-50s. She continued her education to become a certified medical assistant in Sun City, Arizona.
“I always wanted to do that kind of work,” she said.
Fusselman returned to Minnesota about 16 years ago that’s when she crossed paths with Deep.
Brenda Thorson, who works for SEMCAC, and who used to live at Fontaine Towers, organized the party there Sunday.
She divided 100 candles among two cakes for the women.
“Two hundred candles would have been too much,” she said. “We might be pushing it with 100 candles.”
Thorson invited members of the Engine 16 crew from the Rochester Fire Department as a joke to oversee lighting and extinguishing the candles. To go along with the joke, the two women wore plastic firefighter hats instead of birthday hats.
Fusselman and Deep were able to blow out the candles without the firefighters’ assistance.
Thorson said she was touched by the pair who volunteered to organize events and activities for their neighbors.
“They’re remarkable women,” she said. “They’ve both given so many hours to the people and events here.”
The women said they don’t have any specific secrets to a long life, but said they do have something in common.
“As you can see, we have a lot of friends,” Deep said, motioning to the approximately three dozen people at the celebration Sunday. “Just be happy, love everybody.”
“Be happy, be loving and be forgiving,” she said.