June Brown is a regular at the Shabbat services held by The Jewish Pavilion at her Cascade Heights community. Every other Friday, she joins other residents in a lifelong tradition. But it’s more than just staying faithful to her religion. At 101 years old, it’s one of the ways she gets to know the people at Cascade Heights.
“I never miss the Shabbat service,” June says. “I’ve made wonderful friends, including those who are volunteers at The Jewish Pavilion.”
It’s quite easy to be June’s friend. She seems to smile at everyone. She laughs heartily. The number of people who stop and say hello to June as she’s showing off the display of her art on the wall at Cascade Heights is endless.
Spend some time with June and you’ll hear stories about her grandfather being the personal guard for the Russian Czarina. You’ll learn about her travels to Spain, Morocco and, of course, Israel. You’ll even hear current stories, like how President Joe Biden wished her happy birthday and how sharp Seminole County Supervisor of Elections Chris Anderson dresses and how Anderson shares her birthday.
“Doesn’t he dress magnificently? June asks. “I really admire folks that spit and polish. My husband owned a company selling chemicals and wore a uniform, but he was all spit and polish on the weekends.”
June first set foot in Florida when she was just a baby. Born in Havana as her parents were immigrating to America, she rode Henry Flagler’s train that had opened in 1912 from Key West to New York when she was just three months old.
For the next nine decades, June lived in Queens. She worked as an interior decorator and as a travel agent, including handling the travel of some of New York’s most famous people at the time.
And for more than 40 years, June was a volunteer at Long Island Jewish Medical Center in Queens, including starting the hospital’s widows support groups.
Volunteering has always been a significant part of June’s life. It’s something she inherited from her mother.
“My mother was such a goody two shoes, always helping everyone around her,” Brown says. “I’ve always believed you should help everyone too.”
That mindset clearly brings good things to her too. For instance, when she was 65, she was volunteering at her local synagogue when the rabbi asked about bat mitzvahs. She raised her hand to share she had never had one.
Of course, they held one for her. “I even got presents from my children!” she says.
Seven years ago, June’s daughter passed away, and she moved to Central Florida to be near her granddaughter, who lives in Oviedo.
She still volunteers too. Most recently, through The Jewish Pavilion, she helped a boy prepare for his bar mitzvah.
“I like to keep busy and I like to help people,” June says. “I’m just like my mother in that way and I’m very proud of that.”