All Good News: OC Holocaust survivor celebrates passion for art on 100th birthday

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Wednesday, April 28, 2021
OC holocaust survivor turns 100
Desiree Engel, who just turned 100, fled the Nazis during WWII then built a life in Orange County and continues to pursue her passion for art.

ANAHEIM, Calif. (KABC) -- She fled the Nazis during World War II, moved to a foreign land and made Southern California her home.

Now Desiree Engle is celebrating a milestone birthday: 100 years.

"Somebody sent me a birthday card that says you may be 100, but you think you're only 40! That's exactly how I feel. Maybe 60!" laughed Engel.

Desiree has an incredible story, dating back to her days as a newlywed during WWII.

When Germany invaded Yugoslavia, she says she spent four years in displaced persons camps, eventually leading her to America where she ended up in Fullerton.

That's where she raised her three kids and worked a full time job, until the second half of her life when she fell in love with art.

"I had a very very good teacher. She finally told me after a couple of years, she said you know what I think you should go to college and take up art. I said what?! You really think so?" she said.

So that's what she did, earning a bachelor's degree from Cal State Fullerton in her 50s.

"I was going to college with all these 18, 19 year olds and it was fabulous. Just enjoyed myself so much," said Engel.

In her 70s she earned a masters. Now, she's teaching art, is a competitive Scrabble player and spelling bee contestant - all talents her children never knew she had.

"She didn't have time to do any of these passions that she's developed later in life. I say to her, she's proof that the second part of life can be better than the first because she has just blossomed in her older years," said her daughter Linda Engel.

Art helped her get through the pandemic, creating ceramic flowers for her blank patio wall.

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"I'm just glad that I'm able to be out here," 100-year-old Evelyn Haesloop said while celebrating her milestone birthday at Skylinks golf course in Long Beach.

"So that's what I've been doing during the COVID and it's been fun, it's been great. Kept me busy," said Desiree.

She's also kept in touch with people this past year, which she says helps her keep going.

"She's on Zoom all day every day now. How many 100-year-old people do you think are on Zoom right?" laughed Linda.

Desiree's secret to a long life is loving people and making the best of what life has to offer.

"Yea I want to live to 200! I've got so much more to do!" she laughed.