"I've never seen anything like it — it's just ridiculous. I've never heard of anything like this ... it's really a very, very serious situation ... it's just very, very frightening."
Bea Markow just turned 100 on May 4, and she has seen a lot in her life, but nothing quite like the coronavirus pandemic.
She doesn't recall anything in her 100 years being "so overall terrible."
"I've never seen anything like it — it's just ridiculous," she said. "I've never heard of anything like this ... it's really a very, very serious situation ... it's just very, very frightening."
The pandemic prompted the cancellation of her 100th birthday party, which was scheduled for early May. In lieu of a party, the Phoenix Fire Department and several community members organized a surprise appearance as Markow watched from her balcony. It was a feel-good event that was covered by several local news outlets.
It's all right that the party had to be changed, she said, because it's too "risky" to not follow recommendations like wearing a mask or practicing social distancing.
"It's important that we just follow every rule that we have to try to get this period over with — I hope I live to see that day."
Markow said she's hardly left her room since the outbreak began, and that the only in-person communication she has is with her "wonderful" caregiver.
She said she hasn't been lonely, though, adding that as of May 12 she was still reading the more than 100 birthday cards that she received.
Reading those cards reminded her of why she believes she's been able to live so long.
"They say, 'you are nice to people, you understand people, you always try to help,'" she said. "I think if people enjoyed themselves more, were happier, they would be a lot better off."
She's also kept herself "very, very busy" with phone calls from loved ones.
"I'm very fortunate — I have a lot of friends," she said.
She does miss the simple things, though. Markow told The Republic she looks forward to going downstairs and joining her fellow residents for dinner.
Bea Markow,born in 1920, was the third child and first girl in a Russian-Jewish household in a Brooklyn tenement.
She was a "cherished" child who was the valedictorian of her high school class, her 72-year-old daughter Gayle Markow said.
Bea remembers the Great Depression as a "difficult time," though she said it was then that she secured her first job, a $12-per-week stint with a small publishing company.
After five years, she got a job with Superman comics where she answered fan letters as Lois Lane for $25 per week.
She met her graphic artist husband, Bob Markow, while at a Phoenix convention and ultimately moved to the city and married him in 1943.
Bob went into the military and eventually became the base photographer at Thunderbird Field No. 1 in Glendale.
After his service, the couple went into business together with Markow Photography. They also started Colormark Custom Photo Lab, which The East Valley Tribune reported was the Valley's first custom photo lab, and Markow photo supply stores.
Though Bob Markow was the face of the business, Gayle Markow said her mother was tireless in her behind-the-scenes work to support their ventures.
"She was self-effacing in public but she was a powerhouse," Gayle said. "She was always a powerhouse in anything she did."
Bob died in 2009, and Gayle Markow recalls her mother refusing to leave the home they shared for the first year afterward.
Eventually, she moved into The Palazzo assisted living facility in Phoenix, where Gayle Markow said her mother flourished and quickly made new friends.
Gayle Markow and her sister had been planning a large celebration with over 100 guests, an event that was canceled once the pandemic hit.
Though Bea Markow said she was "disappointed" that she couldn't physically be with all of her children on her special day, she said she wouldn't have wanted them to take risks with their health by traveling for the occasion.
She still had a spectacular birthday, though.
News outlets, including The Republic, wrote about Markow's 100th birthday on May 4 that included a visit from the Phoenix Fire Department and a slew of masked people waving to her from the street below.
Markow said her son even made an appearance on the fireman's ladder, which added to how "overwhelmed" she felt.
"I can't describe it — it was just too much," she said. "It was just so wonderful to see and so out of the question ... it's really something that happens once in a lifetime."
Markow said if she could offer one message to those younger than her, it would be one of self-care.
"It pays to take care of yourself," she said. "You have one life to live. Take care of yourself and be good to yourself."