Happy 100th, Irene Backalenick!

Five years ago, “06880” saluted Irene Backalenick.

The noted Westport writer — a longtime New York Times journalist who, after earning a Ph.D. in theater history, became a well-regarded theater reviewer — had just embarked on a successful new career as a poet.

She was 95 years old.

Today, Irene turns 100.

Irene Backalenick

Like anyone who reaches the century mark, she’s had a varied, interesting life. A Providence native who worked as a secretary after high school, then 5 years later was accepted without any college prep at Brown University, and graduated summa cum laude, she has never stopped engaging with words, or the world. 

After moving from her home of decades in Greens Farms to the Watermark at 3030 Park in Bridgeport, Irene jumped into her new community. She and another former journalist started a writers’ workshop. That led to her poetry — and publication in a number of outlets.

At 100, Irene is in strong physical and mental health. She decided, because of COVID, to forgo a big party.

Her son Paul — also a writer — and his wife Karen will be there, though. He’ll show her a copy of his latest project: a collection of her theater reviews, in a self-published book.

In 1956, when this photo was taken, Irene Backalenick (lower right) — shown with her sister-in-law Theda Frank (left) and niece Wendy — was 35 years old.

Recently, the Watermark asked Irene to interview new residents for their in-house publication. Among them: a group of nuns.

Years ago, Irene interviewed a woman from that order. That nun has died, but Irene remembers her fondly.

Those are the kinds of things that a 100-year-old woman experiences.

Happy birthday, Irene. Here’s to many more years of health, happiness — and poetry.

Irene Backalenick


14 responses to “Happy 100th, Irene Backalenick!

  1. Happy birthday!

  2. AudreyDoniger

    Happy Birthday Irene…I’m still living in the house we bought from you 60 years ago and still using your stove!..we have new neighbors behind us and their name is Backalenick!…keep on doing your thing and congrats…

  3. Patricia McMahon

    What a life lived and still at it.
    Cheers to you Irene 🍸

  4. Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    Irene Backalenick,
    Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

  5. Wishing you a very Happy Birthday – you sound like an amazing lady!

  6. Linda Gramatky Smith

    Ken and I have loved you for 27 years, Irene, and we miss seeing you since we moved to NJ. You and Bill were favorite friends, and you’ve stayed optimistic through so many of life’s ups and downs. We love, love, love you!!!

  7. Roseann Spengler

    I have wonderful memories of working with Irene Backalenick when I was Arts & Entertainment editor at the Westport News. We sometimes went to the theater together. A talented and lovely lady. I wish I could see her and congratulate her in person.
    Happy 100th Birthday Irene. You’re still amazing.

  8. Peter Gambaccini

    I’ve known her since I was four years old on Elizabeth Drive, and her son Paul has been a friend since then. I’m so glad she’s still busy and productive and healthy. Happy 100.

  9. Rona Weinstein

    Happy Birthday to a wonderful woman who enhanced the course of my life and many others through her inspired writing! Her New York Times article in the 1970;s about my “Sharing and Caring” program for heart patients and their significant others helped launch support groups globally! Stay well and know that you are loved and respected by many!

  10. Happy Birthdsy Irene. Stu and I are so happy to hear that you are still so vital. You are a role model since we are not so very far behind you. Love from Stu and Joyce Losen

  11. Paul Backalenick

    Thank you Dan, for posting this lovely tribute, and thanks to all my mom’s admirers. We had a great little party (of three) for her yesterday, but gifts of flowers, candy, balloons and numerous cards arrived, along with brief visits from adoring Watermark staff and residents. Her hundredth was a truly special occasion for her and she modestly reveled in it.

  12. Susan Hopkins

    Happy Birthday!

  13. Good to see you again. Very very best wishes. Iris Frey

  14. Joanne Rochman

    You are a true inspiration. A role model for me.
    Joanne Rochman