August 7, 1997 in Nation/World

Centenarian Becomes Citizen 102-Year-Old Woman Takes Oath, But Can’t Swear She’ll Bear Arms

Paul Valentine Washington Post
 

Rose Lagunoff, who has lived in the United States since emigrating from Eastern Europe 87 years ago, finally took the leap Wednesday.

She became a U.S. citizen.

At 102, she took the oath of allegiance in a special naturalization ceremony at the Springbrook Adventist Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Silver Spring, Md., where she has lived for 13 years.

She is among the oldest candidates for citizenship in recent memory, said Immigration and Naturalization Service officials. A 105-year-old Haitian woman in Hyattsville, Md., was sworn in last October.

With several of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren looking on, Lagunoff nodded groggily and occasionally muttered parts of the citizenship oath administered by INS adjudications officer Barbara Johnson. As Johnson read the 141-word oath, Abby Lydon, a Lagunoff granddaughter, held up the centenarian’s right hand and relayed the oath by shouting the words in her ear.

Lagunoff balked at the requirement that she “bear arms” for the United States.

“I’m too old to swear to that,” she said.

Not to worry. Johnson explained later that she had spoken to Lagunoff earlier in the day when she was more alert and told her that she only had to “be willing” to bear arms, not actually do it.

Johnson said she talked privately at length to Lagunoff and “established that she understood why I was here and that she wanted to become a citizen … She very much understood what was going on.”

Lagunoff was born in 1895, when Grover Cleveland was president of the United States and inventor Thomas A. Edison had just put the world’s first motion picture on public display. According to family members, Lagunoff was born in the town of Scusien, near Minsk, the capital of modern day Belarus, part of the former Soviet Union.

In 1910, at age 15, she emigrated alone to New York, became a clothing designer and married Abraham Lagunoff, a garment cutter. He later became an owner of the Worth Undergarment Co. and Rose Lagunoff worked for years as a designer. She and her husband had two daughters and a son. Abraham died in 1961.

Why did she wait so long to become a citizen? “She got too busy with her children,” said daughter Marsha Mittelman, 66, of Silver Spring.

Actually, said Johnson, INS records show she applied once before for citizenship in 1963, “but apparently didn’t follow through.”

Now she has. “She’s very stubborn, very tough,” said Ed Mittelman, 68, a son-in-law. “You don’t get to be 102 if you’re not tough.”


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