Young at heart centenarians celebrated

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It’s one of Governor Gina Raimondo’s favorite events, a unique breakfast brunch that’s only open to a select group of people.

It’s the annual Governor’s Centenarian Brunch that was held last Thursday morning for the 41st time in as many years, which Raimondo put her personal stamp on while telling attendees “I am totally committed to the senior citizens of our great state!”

The Governor’s message was met by a round of applause that filled the main dining room inside The Bridge at Cherry Hill in Johnston.

“We are doubling money for our senior centers,” Raimondo said. “We are empowering seniors and enriching their lives.”

The Governor, who enjoyed some camaraderie with each centenarian who she embraced while making her way from table-to-table, also shared several personal stories with Rhode Island’s oldest citizens. She explained how she telephones her mother, now 86, every morning and evening and tells her to “keep moving”, the same words she spoke to the Centenarian’s and their family members. “It’s important that you keep moving.”

There was also a sentimental side to Raimondo’s visit. She recalled how her one-time neighbor, Maryann Grace who is the long-serving Executive Director at The Bridge at Cherry Hill, used to walk her to the bus stop when she was growing up in Greenville. After showering Grace with words of praise and thanks, Raimondo presented a special gift and was joined by Charles Fogarty, Rhode Island’s current Director of Elderly Affairs.

The Governor also presented personalized citations to four Johnston residents who are among the state’s oldest residents at the Centenarian Brunch.

Emma Pezza, 107, was the oldest Johnston Centenarian and was joined by her younger sister Angela McCord, 100, and Julio Rotondo, who’ll turn 99 in December. Nationally noted Orlando Ricci, 103, was also on hand as was Bernice Spinney, 100, of Johnston who retired after a 30-year career teaching home economics at junior high schools in Winthrop, MA.

Ricci, who appears in a nationally-published hardcover book featuring the top 100 centenarians, is a World War II veteran who is among those who have taken the RI Fire Chiefs Honor Flight to Washington, DC. He’s famous for his “Cribbage Crew” at the Johnston Senior Center.

Perhaps Pezza had the most unique story and told how she started a small business with her late husband during the great depression with $1,000 loaned to them by a family friend. With a lot of hard work and faith, they grew that business into a thriving small construction company – C. Pezza & Son – and employed over 100 people. Emma worked as the company treasurer until 1984. She got married in 1931.

As for her “little sister” Angela, she said “the happiest day of my life was when I married my husband.”

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