A century on the South Coast: Meet Dartmouth’s newest centenarian

Apr 18, 2022

Celebrating a centennial.

Ethel Couza, a longtime Dartmouth resident, turned 100 years old on Tuesday, April 12, honoring the occasion with her family in the home she has lived in since 1943.

Though she doesn’t leave her room much anymore, Couza was all smiles as her family gathered around her to sing happy birthday. She even blew out all her candles in a single breath.

“They treat me real good here,” she said.

Couza said that she didn’t have any secrets to share about how she was able to reach the rare milestone except for “healthy living.”

Her daughters Marian Ryall and Katherine Plant explained that their mother never smoked or drank and always stayed in good shape.

“So there were a lot of things she didn’t do,” said Plant.

The two also noted that Couza is not the only one in the family to be graced with a long life. Her father, they said, had lived to 93 and her sister was 95 when she died in January 2020.

Couza was born in New Bedford in 1922, where she used to walk through a field to go to school at New Bedford Vocational High School on Hillman Street. The field would later become the site of the city’s new vocational technical school.

Her daughter’s recalled a story their mother had told them about the hurricane of 1938 which had hit while she was in school.

“At the time they didn’t know what it was,” said Ryall. “The room just kept getting noisier and noisier.”

Eventually, she said, the school decided to dismiss the students, letting them walk home as the deadly storm rolled in.

Ryall said that her mother remembered seeing shingles blowing off the roof of a church as she hurried home.

“When she got home, her father was so happy to see her,” Ryall said.

Later, when she was about 19 years old, Couza worked at a textile mill in New Bedford where she helped make parachutes for the military during World War II.

When she and her family moved into their home on Gidley Town Road in South Dartmouth, they were some of the only people in the neighborhood.

“At that point there were only about four houses on the road,” said Plant.

Couza has been a member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church since about 1947 and is a longtime member of the local branch of the Order of the Eastern Star — an offshoot of the Freemasonry that is open to both men and women.

Couza is the mother of three children, grandmother of four, great-grandmother of four, and great-great-grandmother of five — the oldest of whom is a senior in college.