Still Pursuing a Lifetime’s Worth of Interests at 104

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Still Pursuing a Lifetime’s Worth of Interests at 104

Tyler Hicks/The New York Times
After his wife died in 1986, Alexander Imich, 104, moved into the Upper West Side space that had been her office.


Published: November 27, 2007

Before Alexander Imich lost all his money in the stock market, he earned his living as a chemist. But he remains in debt, because at 104, he is in no position to re-enter the work force.

Mr. Imich lives amid paintings by his wife and rows of the couple’s books.

Dr. Imich, a small, trim man with clear blue eyes, studies parapsychology with the zeal of a doctoral student. For hours daily, he sits in his study reading, sending e-mail messages to colleagues and doing research for the papers and lectures he publishes in various journals.

“One of the secrets of longevity is to have a strong interest and pursue it all the time,” he said.

His interest in parapsychology began in his youth; he is a devotee of Uri Geller, the paranormalist known for bending spoons.

Another factor he believes contributes to his long life: not having children. “Children take so much out of you,” he said. “To make a human being was never on my mind.”

But sheer luck has also played a role.

Dr. Imich earned a doctorate in zoology in his native Poland. In 1939, when the country was invaded, first by Hitler and then by Stalin, Dr. Imich and his wife, Wela, both Jewish, fled east to Bialystok, near the Soviet border. There he found a job using his chemistry skills to make cosmetics.

One day that year, the Soviet secret police knocked on the door, grabbed the Imiches and put them on a cargo train to a labor camp near the White Sea. They endured two bitter winters in the camp at Abramkova, where Dr. Imich loaded logs onto barges. It was so cold, he said, “You spit and it would turn to ice.”

Three hard years after they were arrested, the Imiches — who had refused to relinquish their Polish citizenship — were liberated. They seized a chance to go to Samarkand, a city in Central Asia, in what is now Uzbekistan. After the war, they made their way back to Poland, where Dr. Imich learned that much of his family had died.

In 1951, the Imiches moved to Waterbury, Conn. They arrived nearly empty-handed, but Dr. Imich got a chemical consulting job in Ossining, N.Y., and they settled there.

When his wife, who worked as a psychotherapist on the Upper West Side, died in 1986, Dr. Imich moved into the space that had been her office. He has lived there since, amid paintings by his wife and rows of the couple’s books.

About five years ago, on the advice of a trusted friend, Dr. Imich invested his life savings in the stock market, and lost it. Two years later, with money borrowed from the bank, he invested and lost again.

He says that collection agencies hound him. His Social Security payments and other income go straight to rent and expenses, with assistance from Selfhelp Community Services, an agency supported by the UJA-Federation of New York.


Recently, Dr. Imich needed new glasses; money from The New York Times Neediest Cases Fund covered this expense through the UJA, one of seven agencies supported by the fund. In March, he was hospitalized with chest pain.

He has since suffered from dizziness and sees a neurologist, something that would be impossible without Medigap coverage. The Neediest Cases Fund provides Dr. Imich with $75 a month for Medigap, and when his medical expenses exceed his budget, the fund helps cover hospital bills. Without this, and without assistance from UJA and the deKay Foundation, a charity that provides financial aid to older people in New York City who are no longer able to support themselves, Dr. Imich would probably be forced out on the street.

The closest relatives who could take Dr. Imich in are his wife’s great-nieces, in Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. The prospect of moving in with family members he does not know well has Dr. Imich sure he would feel like a burden.

Dr. Imich sees the same psychologist he has seen for decades; the fee is waived. He also gives lectures on self-help and the paranormal.

Sitting in a well-worn chair, his features handsome enough that women ask him out on dates, Dr. Imich recalled a product he invented, a lacquer to clean dust that settled on paintings without ruining the surface.

He never got the patent.

“That was a hundred years ago,” he said. “Who remembers what happened?”


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