By Chuck Ballaro
Lea Van Poelvoorde has always known how to find a bargain. Every week, she goes to the Salvation Army Store on Del Prado Boulevard to find a good deal for herself and her family.
Lea Van Poelvoorde at her 100th birthday celebration at the Salvation Army store Friday.
She loves the store, and the staff loves her just as much. So on Friday, the staff decided the store would be the perfect place to celebrate her 100th birthday with family, friends and the media.
The staff of the store, which appreciates that her purchases go toward a great cause - the Salvation Army Crossroads center, a residential drug and alcohol rehab program for men also appreciates that she has devoted her life to helping others.
"She's been coming here since the store opened in 2007. She is a lively, wonderful lady who we had to do something special for," said Shannon Monet, who runs the store. "Her life has been a journey and we're blessed to have her here to shop with us."
Van Poelvoorde didn't expect to live this long and doesn't really know how she did it.
"There's no secret to it. You go on and you never give up," Van Poelvoorde said. "We came here in 1953 and started a new life. It wasn't easy, but we made it. There were a lot of good times and bad times."
Weekly shopping excursions are a far cry from what she accomplished and endured in her century of life, including two world wars.
During the time her home country of Belgium was occupied by Germany in World War II, Lea helped save the life of a man the Germans were after, by hiding him in her house.
"We hid somebody the Gestapo was after. For four years he stayed in our house And we gave him another name," Van Poelvoorde said. "They went to my brother's house, who was hiding, and they took his wife's sewing machine as she was a seamstress."
She said that ended when the person they were hiding went over to them and said the Germans had spotted him.
After her husband was able to secure work in the states, she immigrated here in 1953 and settled in Detroit, where she became a neonatal and intensive care nurse - even though she didn't start schooling until she was 39. Most of that time she was a single mother after her husband passed away nearly 50 years ago.
Following her retirement, beginning in 1990, when her son and daughter-in-law moved here, she became a snowbird, spending winters in Fort Myers and summers in Detroit. Eight years ago, she settled full time in Cape Coral, where she resides only a stone's throw from her favorite shop.
She almost didn't make it to 100. Last year she went into cardiac arrest and was on life support. Miraculously, she pulled through and went home six weeks later on her 99th birthday.
Her family includes five children (who are all living), 15 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. Some of them were at the party.
"She's sharp, she's healthy and that's the good part. She's not ailing," said Andre Van Poelvoorde, 66, her son. "She's survived two world wars and was active in supporting the resistance. There was a great personal threat in doing that."
As for her love of shopping at the Salvation Army, she said she's just a savvy shopper.
"I buy for the whole family. It's nice stuff and if you know what to look for, you'll find it," Van Poelvoorde said.