Catena Cavallaro, North Salem’s oldest known resident, celebrated her 110th birthday among family and friends at Salem Hills in North Salem last week.
“You don’t meet too many people that have hit this milestone,” Supervisor Warren Lucas said upon presenting her with a proclamation, which declared Oct. 8, 2017, “Catena Cavallaro Day.” “This is very, very special.”
Standing in front of County Executive Rob Astorino, County Legislator Francis Corcoran also presented her with a proclamation to celebrate her 110th birthday on behalf of County Executive Rob Astorino. That proclamation declared Oct. 11, 2017, the day of the party, to be “Catena Cavallaro Day” countywide.
“She’s a wonder and a miracle and an asset for us all to treasure,” Corcoran said.
The nursing staff at Salem Hills said Cavallaro has been a friendly and active resident during her 14-year stay. She currently enjoys music and the many activities that go on at the center. According to her grandson, Carl, she has a flair for fashion and wore bright colors, often had her nails done and wore lipstick when she was younger. Cavallaro is still expressive in her clothing options, and confidently donned bright pink slippers for her birthday party, a perfect combination of comfort and style.
The centenarian was born in Sicily on Oct. 8, 1907. She met her husband, Carmello Cavallaro, while living in Italy, and came to America in the 1930s. She and Carmello, a shoemaker, lived in Pleasantville until he died in 1961. She did not remarry, and began living with her son, Ignazio, now 89, and his family in Chappaqua.
Ignazio is the oldest of her three children; his siblings are 85 and 77 years old. He, his wife, Concetta, and their sons, Frank and Carl, all came to celebrate with the matriarch of their family in her home at Salem Hills. They described her as a consummate homemaker and hostess for as long as they can remember.
“She was friends with everybody,” Concetta said, describing her warm and loving mother-in-law. “She was like my mom, always helping me like a daughter.”
Cavallaro has jokingly told North Salem News that the secret to her longevity is “a boyfriend,” but her family credits it to a lifetime of made-from-scratch meals using fresh ingredients from her garden. Her signature dishes included bread, manicotti, gnocchi and lasagna. Additionally, they said, she never drank or smoked, except for one glass of wine with dinner every night.
Though residents at the center range in age from 57 to 110, Administrator Maura Brennan and Nursing
Director Mary McClean said the group average is in the late 90s. One of the contributing factors to their longevity, they said, is having close relationships with family members.
“Her family is very devoted,” McClean said, remembering when they would hold family gatherings along with Concetta’s mother, who was also in the facility for many years before her passing.
“Socialization in general is good, but when you have family around, it’s really nice for their memories and reminiscing,” Brennan said. “Our residents tend to remember the past better.”
One to remember, but not dwell, Carl thinks the true secret to his grandmother’s longevity has been her resiliency and ability to keep things in perspective. He described her as “very calm and collected,” qualities he said younger members of the family have learned from her.
“Nothing bothered her,” he said. “She would say, ‘There are always worse things.’ ”