For the past 15 years, Francisca Pujols has taken advantage of a Community College of Philadelphia benefit that allows city residents 65 and older to take one course each term at minimal cost.
Pujols has signed up for a ceramics class almost every semester, making her the College’s oldest student at age 96. January’s heavy snows only briefly delayed her arrival for the spring term. “I call this my old age therapy. It is good to stay involved in life. It is the best way to fight old age,” she said.
The loss of her left eye in a fall 10 years ago, diminishing vision in the remaining eye, surgery for colon cancer and two knee replacements have been nuisances Pujols barely acknowledges.
Associate professor Kyung Lee, who teaches the College’s Ceramics II class, praised Pujols’ work. “Her technique may not be technically advanced, but it has a lot of feeling and spontaneous expression,” Lee said.
Born in the small city of Arroyo in Puerto Rico, Pujols was the youngest of 15 children. Her hardworking parents struggled to make ends meet, and at the age of 14, Pujols was forced to leave school to work. She never gave up her desire for an education, however, and eventually returned to school and earned a teaching certificate from Universidad de Puerto Rico.
Pujols later married and moved to New York City with her husband and the first of her three daughters in 1950. The couple divorced in the late 1960s, leaving Pujols to raise three daughters alone. She received a ramshackle apartment building in the South Bronx as part of the divorce. She rescued the building from the brink of foreclosure, made improvements, and the building provided enough income for her to support her family and send all three daughters to college. Two daughters are now teachers, and one is a medical doctor.
Pujols moved to Philadelphia in the late 1980s to be near her middle daughter, Ana. But it was her youngest daughter, Rosa, who encouraged Pujols to take that first ceramics class at the College. Pujols fell in love with the medium.
For Pujols’ 80th birthday, the family surprised her with a party in the College’s Mint Building Rotunda, which was attended by more than 125 people. The Rotunda gallery display cases were filled with Pujols’ sculptures in an impressive one-woman show. Pujols also attends activities and contributes to annual exhibitions at Germantown’s Center in the Park, Allens Lane Arts Center in Mt. Airy and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.