Written by Marcella Veneziale Friday, 16 April 2010 00:00
One hundred years ago, the Eiffel Tower was the world’s tallest building; 95 percent of people were born at home, and there were only 45 states in the union. These are only a fraction of the changes Rose Romano has witnessed in her 100 years of life.
“I don’t feel any different,” Romano said at her recent 100th birthday party. “I think going to the senior [center] had something to do with it.”
More than 100 center members, family and friends gathered at the Westbury Senior Center March 24 to celebrate Romano’s accomplished life. They enjoyed lunch and cake, heard from several county and town public officials, and swapped stories from the years they have known each other.
“As long as I’ve known Rose, she’s been a woman of dignity,” said Maureen Droge, the center’s executive director. “She’s quiet, reserved and spirited, with a good sense of humor, and someone who’s always willing to help out wherever she can, whenever possible.”
That was a theme many repeated about Romano throughout the afternoon, including Jean Silverman, the center’s former executive director. “She was my inspiration,” said Silverman. “She’s a wonderful person. She’s beautiful inside and out.”
Romano was born in Brooklyn in 1910 and moved to Westbury in 1934 when she got married. She currently lives with her daughter and son-in-law, Helen and Bob Mulligan, and has five grandchildren and seven great grandchildren.
Romano became active with the Westbury Senior Center following her husband’s death 40 years ago. Over the past four decades, she held every position and served on every committee at the center. Romano also helped start its Special Friends group, which serves members who can’t get to the center regularly because of physical infirmities. Today, she is an honorary member of the Westbury Senior Center.
In 1987, Romano was awarded the Walter B. Swanson Award for extraordinary service to the center and, last month was named to the North Hempstead Town Women’s Honor Roll and received the town’s Women’s History Award, which recognizes women who have made a difference in their communities. Additionally, she was the first woman inducted into the Kiwanis Club of Westbury and was the recipient of the 1997 Legion of Honor Award, as well as many other awards.
Droge, who attended the March 18 town ceremony during which Romano was honored, said the longtime Westbury resident received a standing ovation when it was announced that she would celebrate her 100th birthday the following week. “I was filled with pride,” Droge said. “I was so excited and I just said, ‘That’s our Rose!’”
Because of Romano’s vitality, many guests asked for her secrets to longevity. Staying involved with a social group and keeping her mind sharp seemed to hold the keys. Romano also remains independent, and only uses a cane to walk.
“Anything you ask her to do, she’ll do,” said Mary Romano of her sister-in-law. “Her mind is very active. She’s interested in everything.”
Nassau County Legislator Robert Troiano overheard from the crowd that Romano’s quality of life had inspired many of them. “People said ‘this really is great, a 100th birthday, but I don’t know if I really want to live that long,’” Troiano said. “But if I can live that long as gracefully as Rose has, with all my faculties, with this much love, then yes, this is how I’d want to do it.”
Recently, friend Terry Testagrossa, who worked with Romano at the senior center for 25 years, found the 100-year-young woman at home reading a book without wearing eyeglasses. “I said, ‘Rose, where are your glasses? She said, ‘I don’t need glasses, only for fine print,’” Testagrossa said. “She doesn’t want any help. She’s very independent. Many times you just want to hold her elbow to help her. No way.”
Testagrossa also praised Romano for her sense of humor. “You can tease her, and I’m a teaser, a real kibbutzer,” she said. “And she always enjoyed it, laughed it off. And from that generation!”
The elected officials who spoke at the celebration marveled at the changes since that generation. “You moved to Westbury the year it was incorporated as a village. So you’ve seen the lifespan of our village over the time you’ve lived here,” said Mayor Peter Cavallaro, who had one special request from Romano – a good luck kiss. “Before I forget, somebody told me it is very good luck for longevity to get a kiss from a 100 year young woman, so I’m going to get my 100 year kiss,” said Cavallaro.
Family is also important to Romano, and Mulligan praised her mother.
“We were like buddies,” Mulligan said. “We did a lot of things together. At times she was a little strict. But we were very close.”
Romano, who was flattered by the attention, said she appreciated all that the community had given her. “I wouldn’t have changed anything,” Romano told The Westbury Times. “To me it was home. If I had to go anyplace else, I don’t know where I’d go, which is a good feeling.”