MORRISTOWN, NJ – Back in 1910, automobiles and motion pictures were starting to appear, women didn’t have the vote, and the shot heard around the world hadn’t been fired yet in Sarajevo to start World War I.
It was a very different world when former Elizabeth resident Carmela Lepore entered it on Jan. 30, 1910. On Sunday, Feb. 5, Lepore celebrated her 107th birthday at a Ladies Luncheon at her daughter Kathy Claxton’s home in Morristown where she now resides.
Born to two Italian immigrants, Lepore spent the first five years of her life in Swissvale, Pennsylvania, before moving back to Italy with her parents and three siblings. She remained in Italy until age 19 when she moved back to the United States to live with her Aunt Stella and Uncle Antonio Picaro along with their seven children on High Street in Elizabeth and remained in the city from 1930 to 2010. Married just prior to World War II, she and husband Chris raised three children in Elizabeth, Charles, Joseph, and Kathleen.
“It was a rough life in the 20s and 30s economically and my mom worked in the garment industry from age 19 until her retirement at age 70,” said her daughter, Kathy Claxton.
While Lepore has plenty of memories that fill more than 100 years, this Italian mother is also a central figure in the reminiscences of her daughter and nieces. “What I remember about to Aunt Carmela’s on Spring Street was the amount of food that was present in the house,” said Maryann Foster, who grew up in the Peterstown section and now lives in Westfield. “There were always three entrees. There was an awful lot of food even though my grandmother, mother, and aunts also cooked.”
Remembered Claxton, “My brothers’ friends would be reaching for the refrigerator before they took off their coats. The kitchen table was the biggest thing in the room, and it was always piled high with food.”
Lepore is also credited with having a better memory than most people half her age, so she is able to share her invaluable memories. “Just recently she told me this story about when I was born,” said another niece Patricia Matzek of Hillsborough. “In 1946, she was sitting on her porch, and she looked across the highway. There was my father, and he called out to her, ‘It’s a girl!’ She could still remember that. Unbelievable! Since my father died when I was six, this is one more memory to the few that I have.”
But what is the secret of a long, healthy life? Although she never exercised regularly or maintained a healthy diet, Claxton said she was able to stay in shape by not only working full time outside the home, but also raising three children. She also enjoyed a glass of red wine every night.