Eleanor LaMotta’s family asks her all the time, “how do you do it?”
The 107-year-old North Salem resident has a simple answer - good genes. Her sister, Pam, lived to be 103, and their mother, Augusta Luzi, lived to be 101.
“She doesn’t sweat the small stuff,” LaMotta’s daughter, Fran Monti, 74, said with a light chuckle.
LaMotta, who now lives with Fran and her husband, Bill Monti, 76, in North Salem, also attributed her longevity to prayer, eating right and staying active. Although she now relies on a walker to get around, she makes a point to do laps in the dining room to “keep those legs going.” Fran keeps four walkers strategically placed around the house to help out.
In that same dining room on Sunday, Oct. 23, the first generation Italian-American celebrated her 107th birthday with dozens of family members. Many are the children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great-great grandchildren of her late eight siblings.
“I think everybody in the family looks forward to it, to be together and see the last member of that generation,” Fran said.In between telling stories from her life, LaMotta said, “I’m so happy to see everybody.”
Putting it in historical context, LaMotta was born one year before the Ford Motor Co. began producing the Model T, widely regarded as the first mass-produced automobile, replacing their horse and buggy. Fran said her mother recalls seeing horse and buggies growing up in Manhattan. Going back even further, LaMotta’s mother was born seven years after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.
“Absolutely incredible when you think about it,” said Bill, pivoting back to their family’s longevity. “Her mother, Luzi was born somewhere in the 1870s. How many people lived beyond 40 or 50 at that time? So, there’s something, a genetic kind of composition that makes someone have that kind of longevity.”
Although just 11 years old, Peter Monti, LaMotta’s youngest great grandchild, shares in Bill’s amazement.
“She’s always been there,” said the aspiring stockbroker, in between talking stock prices with his grandfather, Bill. “She’s kind, caring and is kind of like the head of the family. She’s the wisest person in the family.”
Born Oct. 13, 1909 to Italian immigrants Augusta Luzi and Joe Imperato, LaMotta grew up in Manhattan. Her fondest memories were in the water. She and her siblings spent their summers waterside living in a bungalow her parents rented on City Island.
“She spent her summer in the bathing suit,” Fran said. “She lived by the water, she loved it... We have a pool, and when she couldn’t go in the pool anymore that was a hard thing.”
LaMotta completed her three-year junior high school program in two years through its “rapid advanced program.” On top of her regular classes at Textile High School, she studied costume design and costume history - skills she would use later in life to make both of her daughters’ prom dresses.
“She made most of our clothing growing up,” said Fran, a 23-year earth science and geology teacher at John Jay Middle School. “She drew the line at wedding dresses, told us she wouldn’t do that. She was very talented.”
With six brothers, LaMotta was on the wrong end of many pranks, which Fran said ranged from sneaking “inappropriate” items into her lunch bag, to stapling her up by her clothes to a wall.
“I think she developed a sense of humor from them, because they would always pull pranks on her, because she was a goody two-shoes,” Fran said.
Their parents had only planned to stay in America for five years when they arrived in 1897 - Imperato had served in the Italian Navy and, after marrying Luzi, wanted to avoid being called back to serve amid rumors of violence, according to Fran. But, after having nine children, all born in America, Fran said her grandmother, “would never think of going back.”
“They had a genteele life,” she said. “From what my mother said, her parents would go to the opera. They loved fine music. He bought her beautiful jewelry. I have some of it in the house. He provided very well for her and nine kids. That’s a lot of kids.”Imperato ran a wholesale produce business and his wife was his bookkeeper. Luzi’s brother, Faust, also came to America with them and would look after the kids. Eleanor went on to do bookkeeping for her family business, which is how she met her husband, Frank. They married in 1937 and had two daughters, six grandchildren, 13 great grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.
“She didn’t work after that,” Fran said of her mother. “Those were the days you stayed home, had your baby… She personified the homemaker of the ’40s and ’50s and ’60s.”
While she felt “gypped” that she didn’t get a chance to go to college to become a teacher, Fran said, she was proud her daughter could achieve success in that field.
For her own part, LaMotta did a lot of volunteer work, including at her church. A devout Catholic, she would say the rosary during mass at St. Joseph’s in Somers, as well as lead group prayers after mass. She and Frank moved to Heritage Hills in Somers in 1984. Frank passed away in 1990.
“You looked at them and you knew they loved each other,” Fran said. “There was nothing that could come between them. They just gave completely to each other.”
LaMotta continued living in Heritage Hills on her own until the age of 100. In 2010 she fell and broke her arm, which prompted her to move in with Fran and Bill. Despite being prone to falls, her health up until current day has amazed her daughter.
“She’s pretty physically fit,” Fran said. “She doesn’t catch colds. I had pneumonia twice last winter, very sick with it. Had surgery. She never caught the sniffles.”
More than anything, LaMotta is good at taking things in stride.
“Better than I, she weathers the tragedies that life gives you,” Fran said. “Maybe because she’s so religious, fate or something else.”
While she never thought she would reach the age of 107, LaMotta was brimming with pride to see five generations of her family together for her birthday party.
“Simply put, I’m thrilled.”