From Humble Beginnings
The year was 1917.
Woodrow Wilson was president of the United States.
In the early 1900’s, the average life expectancy was 47 years and many of the modern conveniences we take for granted, like electricity and indoor plumbing were the exception, not the rule. Items like washing machines and gas stoves were not invented yet. Housework was considered hard labor, and the average US wage was just 22 cents an hour; even sliced bread wasn’t a concept until 1928!
On April 19, 1917, Vincent (Vinny) Hugh Petrolino was welcomed into the world in Astoria, Queens – one of the five boroughs of New York City. He was raised alongside a brother and a sister by an Italian father and Irish/Scottish mother.
Even though the Model T was a hot commodity, there was only one car for approximately every 50 Americans. The traditional horse and buggy still dominated the means of daily transportation. Vinny recalls as a young boy, a horse-drawn wagon that would stop in the street and the vendor would screech the items for sale and everyone from the houses would scramble outside to the wagon to purchase their daily produce.
Born during World War I, by the time Vinny was 18 years old, America was in the midst of the most calamitous depression in the nation’s history. Vinny did not attend college as there were no available means to pay for an education. Instead, Vinny made the most out of his life by turning his focus on the skill of welding, which ultimately became his vocation.
Vinny has always been a competitive sports enthusiast. One of his favorite sports memories is when he played baseball as a teenager and his team won the Queensborough Rotary championship two years in a row. Currently, he supports the New York football Giants and the basketball Knickerbockers.
Life: The Next Phase
Nothing was easy about living in America in the early 1900’s, however, after World War II, everything started to boom and the country once again began to flourish.
Vinny got married and together with his wife, Mildred, raised two daughters.
Life continued marching on and in 1983 when Vinny was 66, a man walked into Precise Welding & Brazing (a company in which Vinny was a partial owner), offering to buy everything…the company, the building – all of it. According to Vinny, “We sold the company almost by accident – but at the right time. Everything worked out well.”
Fast Forward 34 Years
Vinny is now at the ascent of his centennial birthday; witnessing 36,500 days, he has lived through 18 U.S presidents, and a litany of memories compiled along the way; he is also now a grandfather and great-grandfather.
It is not often one is able to peer into the past and speak with a soul that has walked the earth for nearly a century, although it is estimated there are as many as 72,000 Americans above the century age mark.
Science still does not have any sure way of predicating who will live to 100 or more. Certainly there is no specific “centenarian gene,” yet by adopting the techniques used by centenarians we can learn to live well and live better at any age – perhaps becoming one of the fastest growing populations on the planet – the centenarians.
When speaking directly with Vinny, one detects a calm-nature and a humble kindness. He does not wear glasses and still has a full-head of white-grey hair. Vinny says simply, “There is no secret (to living to be 100). I am lucky, and genes have something to do with it.” Vinny’s parents lived until their early 70s, but he had an uncle who lived to be 94.
He considers “all things in moderation” as a perfunctory mantra to live by, adding, he eats healthy, and out of 365 days a year, he likely consumes oatmeal 360 of those days.
In his lifetime, Vinny witnessed everything from the invention of the hair dryer to a man walking on the moon, air travel, digital mobile phones, and the creation of the World Wide Web!
When questioned about the best invention of his life, he says candidly, “Dick Tracy’s watch.” (Probably the best answer to the best invention ever proclaimed!)
Clearly, Vinny possesses a century worth of wisdom. He believes in making the most out of life and affirms not everyone needs a college education in order to be successful. He himself a tradesman, believes crafts like welding, construction, and mechanics are vitally important and necessary in today’s economy.
As a snow-bird, during his time in Florida, Vinny remains active and is a member of the Bonita Bay Bocce Club, proclaiming he’s “one of the better players.” (And do not be fooled by the cane he uses, he says it simply keeps him “from moving too fast.” Admittedly, I have never had the opportunity to play bocce to which Vinny said convincingly, “You don’t know what you’re missing!”)
100 Years and Beyond
After the hoopla of the current season ends – and he recovers from several centenarian celebrations – Vinny will quietly return to New York, where he continues to live alone caring for himself in a house his father built in the 1930s. Along with grocery shopping and cooking, Vinny does his own housework and drives himself wherever he needs to go.
Vinny shared a new milestone he set for himself – to reach the spry age of 105. Based on his current health, mental clarity, and positive outlook on life, there is no doubt this goal is within his grasp.
After our meeting, as he softly walked out to his car, I offered sincere gratitude for the time he chose to spend talking about his life and his philosophies.
He stopped, with hand on his cane, and said gently, “Time is all I have.”
Happy 100th Birthday Vinny! Bonita Bay is proud to be your winter home!
Written by Katie Walters (and of course, Vinny Petrolino!)