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102 And Looking Great

“I’m fine above the knees,” is the way Belle Santora answers to the question, “how are you doing?” Born in Oyster Bay 102 years ago, Belle celebrated her 102 birthday on June 20 — for about a week.

It started with a dinner at Canterbury Ales in Oyster Bay on Wednesday evening, June 19, with her niece Marianne Principe O’Neil and her husband John, their daughter Trish and a friend, Leon, another of Belle’s admirers. Thursday afternoon there was at a luncheon at Luz Restaurant in East Norwich with 12 friends. At the luncheon on Thursday, her niece Sherry presented Belle with a Proclamation. It started with a painting at the top and had a long sheet of paper attached.

Said Belle, “It’s longer than I am tall. It listed 102 things about me all in different colors. It’s wonderful.”

The next morning, June 21, her great-grandson was born.

The candle on top of the cake was a card from NBC’s Willard Scott of the Today Show that arrived on June 28. He is known for honoring centenarians. The letter said:

“Dear Belle,

This month we boast something very special, the beautiful event of your 102nd birthday. A memorable occasion, for you and your loved ones to remember.

I offer loving and fond wishes to you for such a remarkable milestone in your long and fruitful life.

My friend, God has given you many years on earth and may he continue to bless you with his peace and love. Happy birthday Belle. Willard Scott.”

He hand signed it Willard. Her niece, Marianne O’Neil, alerted Willard Scott about the birthday.

“I had quite a run for my birthday, celebrating for almost a week,” said Belle. “My son calls me a social butterfly. He says, ‘I can’t believe my mother has all these friends. I got about 35 cards and a lot of phone calls. Some people said they couldn’t get through to me. A lot of calls were from out of state. This is probably my last hurrah. I might as well enjoy it!

“And I got a big present the day after my birthday, a great- grandson and he is beautiful. Jacqueline had the baby at 12:30 a.m., a half an hour after my birthday. They wanted him to have his own day. He is named Joseph after my son, which is a big honor.

“Joe and his wife Doris went in to see her on Friday morning. On Sunday, Jacqueline’s in-laws, who live in Riverhead came and picked me up. They are wonderful to me. They came at noon and we went to Mineola and picked up their mother, and the two great-grandmothers went to see the little family. They had a private room and Rich has been staying with her the whole time. She and the baby were in the hospital until Tuesday, when her mother-in-law took her home. I was so thrilled to hold him.”

   Belle’s son Joseph is writing a book about corruption in New York State. He is on the last chapter. It will be printed by Amazon, as a paperback. He was a successful trial lawyer and won some very big cases. “I watched him in court. He paced the floor as he spoke. He was great. I was happy that my husband got to see him once.”

Belle has a wonderful storehouse of memories. She recalled that one day, over 60 years ago, after they had just moved to East Norwich, a brand new development, “Dr. Carmine Fasano and his uncle were walking around the area that was just being built up. They knocked on the door and Dr. Fasano introduced himself. He said, ‘I’m a dentist and I’d like to open an office here. It that a good idea?’ I told him absolutely and that I was sending my husband to see him. We were very good friends over the years.”

Ready To Talk

A key to Belle’s success in life is her friendly, positive and optimistic attitude.

“I even make friends when I call a wrong number,” she quipped. “I’m very outgoing and I even made friends when I called a wrong number and a lady answered. I apologized and asked where she was, in Freeport. I said, ‘In Freeport: so close to that wonderful fresh fish’ and we talked for 10 minutes. She asked my name and I said, ‘Belle.’ And she said she was Adele. A month later and I dialed the wrong number again. She recognized my voice and said, ‘Are you Belle?’ and we had another half hour of conversation.”

Belle has been a very active member of the Life Enrichment Center (the former Doubleday Babcock Senior Center). She was brought there, by her friend, Ethel Valerie. At first, Belle said, “I’m not going down there with all those old people.” The first time they went no one greeted them and they had trouble finding seats. Belle’s attitude was “if you can’t fight them, join them,” and soon newcomers were directed to her table. “If I saw someone sitting alone I invited them to come and sit with us. They did and sometimes they would join another table but that was fine. It’s a social group.”

She also recognized old friends at the center.

“There were people who were sons of my mother’s friends, my age, and I knew a lot of them. They sat at the bottom of the stairs. One of them was John DeJesu, I poked his ear or his hair, so they all started to talk to me.

“There was Bob, with a beard, and I put my hands over his eyes and he said, ‘This has to be Belle.’ I got very friendly with everybody. I’m very outgoing.”

Having grown up in Oyster Bay, Belle has ties to lots of people either through her parents, herself and through her son. That and through her work with the Republican Club, and being a seamstress. A graduate of Pratt Institute, she graduated during the depression and found a job in the alteration department of Sachs Fifth Avenue. Later she ran the housewares department at B. Altman’s in the Americana shopping center.

Belle might even be the oldest living person to have been a commuter on the Oyster Bay line of the LIRR. She commuted to Pratt College, going by railroad, subway and bus. The Enterprise Pilot has told a lot of her story over the years. She really deserves a whole book. Maybe when her son finishes his current one, the story of Belle will be his next.