Vickroy: All still very independent at 100 years
DONNA VICKROY firstname.lastname@example.org | (708) 633-5982 May 30, 2012 7:36PM
Robert Grossi, of Chicago Heights, reflects on 100 years of life during a conversation at his home Friday, May 25, 2012. | Brett Roseman~Sun-Times Media
“I had the guy upstairs and a good wife to take care of me. What else do you need?”
100 on Saturday
Updated: July 3, 2012 12:37PM
In 1912, New Mexico and Arizona became states, the Girl Scouts of America held its first meeting, and the luxury liner Titanic hit an iceberg and sank in the North Atlantic.
Indeed, many of the events of a hundred years ago still are commemorated today, including the births of Robert Grossi, Ann Cavallone and Lena Vail. All three are marking a very important birthday. Grossi and Cavallone will turn 100 on Saturday. Vail hit the century mark May 16.
We recently sat down with Grossi in the Chicago Heights home he built and with Cavallone and Vail at Brementowne Manor in Tinley Park, where both women live independently.
Grossi still remembers the day he told his mom he wanted to be a carpenter, not a bricklayer like his dad, when he grew up. He didn’t know his father was standing behind him and heard every word.
“He knocked me clear across the room,” Grossi said, chuckling. “I became a bricklayer.”
He also went on to take over Grossi Bricklaying, the company his dad started. He helped build schools and office buildings in Glenwood, South Holland, Lansing and Chicago Heights.
After the company went out of business in the ’80s, Grossi worked as an estimator for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and as a maintenance worker for the Chicago Heights Park District.
He credits simple living for his longevity.
“I’ve always eaten right and I try to stay active,” he said.
It also helps to have a good sense of humor.
“You gotta have that if you’re gonna live to be 100, believe me,” he said.
His wife, Frances, 91, said he’s always been a wiseacre: “Oh, he thinks he’s funny, all right.”
Robert and Frances, married for nearly 71 years, raised six kids. Grossi’s parenting style was pretty much my-way-or-the-highway.
He never had a lot of money but insists he’s always been happy, filling his free time playing golf and collecting stamps and music boxes.
“I had the guy upstairs and a good wife to take care of me,” he said. “What else do you need?”
Cavallone was born and raised in Chicago. She remembers when there was a run on the banks during the Great Depression.
“I had $35 in the bank, which was a lot of money back then,” she said. Her supervisor at Chicago Mail Order let her take her lunch hour to get her money out of Metropolitan State Bank.
“That bank never did close,” she said, laughing, “but I used the $35 to buy a radio.”
Cavallone had a son, Ronald, with her first husband, Joseph Bazan. After Bazan’s death, she married Jim Cavallone.
She lived for a time in Arkansas and recently moved to Tinley Park to be near her son.
She’s been lucky enough to travel extensively, even visiting Alaska, where she walked on a glacier, in 2002.
Sharp, some might say a bit feisty, Cavallone credits her longevity to a lifetime of good living.
“I didn’t smoke, I didn’t drink. And I didn’t run around,” she said, chuckling.
But she sure liked to dance.
“I loved the Charleston, and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ was my favorite song,” she said.
Born in Asiago, Italy, Vail was the oldest of five children. After her father died when she was in fifth grade, Vail quit school so she could watch her siblings while her mom sewed to make a living.
At 13, she learned how to drive, back before licenses were required.
Vail lived most of her life in Chicago’s Roseland community, later moving to Pullman before settling in at Brementowne Manor.
She loves music, animals, children and sewing. She also had a talent for making a mean batch of whiskey.
“They used to come and get me to help them make the whiskey,” Vail said. “My mother used to grab me by the hair and say, ‘If you get caught, I’m not bailing you out.’ ”
Her daughter, Peggy Nowak, said her mom always ate right and stayed active.
“She was always positive,” Nowak said. “She hugs and kisses everybody. Everything is always wonderful.”