SOMERS, N.Y. - If you’re a regular in the Heritage Hills Fitness Center, you have no doubt seen Louis Forte.
Forte, 101, doesn’t let his age stop him from keeping exercise and activity in his life. Born in Italy on Feb. 12, 1915, Forte was the son of a migrant who came to this country in his late teens as a tailor and designer. He settled in New York and ended up working in the fur factories in Manhattan. Eventually, he married and had three children. While Forte’s mother was pregnant with him, the family took a long trip to Italy to visit family.
In the early 1900s, the only way to get there was by boat, which took approximately one month. While there, WWI started. Forte’s family was detained while his father was drafted into the Italian Army. Forte was born there during this time, and eventually made it back to the United States with his mother and siblings. Forte’s dad served four years before returning to his family in New York.
The family settled in the Bronx in his uncle’s four-family house, where Forte grew up. He remembers being active as a kid, playing baseball with his neighborhood friends in empty lots that they transformed into baseball fields. Weekends included traveling around to other neighborhoods with his friends, in search of other kids to play against.
After his father died at an early age, when Forte was just a teenager, he quit school to work and help his mother. Forte did odd jobs and saved as much money as he could, even pennies and dimes. Forte said he did not want to work for someone else all of his life. With the money he saved, he bought an empty lot with the dream of building and opening up a bowling alley. Unfortunately, construction issues halted his dream.
Forte was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942 and served with the infantry and field artillery branches. While in training, he signed up to drive the trucks that transported all the equipment. He was chosen to be part of a group called “The Lucky 18.” This was a group chosen to drive for the White House before going overseas.
Forte served for two years on Johnston Atoll in the South Pacific, 800 miles south of Hawaii near the equator, where he said the coolest it ever got was 110 degrees, reaching 130 at times.
In 1945, when WWII was over, Forte returned to New York and revisited his dream of starting a business. With the partnering of his brothers and investments from people he knew, they purchased a building that had a supermarket and six retail stores in the Bronx. Forte and his brothers ran the supermarket for about 15 years. During this time, Forte met his wife, Dorothy, got married and started a family. He worked long hours, seven days a week. Everybody that he borrowed money from was paid back.
Forte later moved with his family to New Rochelle and then to Mahopac. Once the children left and he and Dorothy were alone, they moved to Heritage Hills for Dorothy, who found it hard to climb stairs because of an illness. Dorothy has since passed and Forte remains in Heritage Hills and keeps himself busy with his activities and his friends.
Along with eating right, especially low salt, low to no sugar, little red meat and little starch, Forte attributes his long life and health to eating lots of fresh greens, vegetables, fish, chicken and olive oil. He said he doesn’t eat out often due to the amount of salt restaurants put in food. He has followed this routine for over 50 years.
Forte plays bocce a couple of times a week, and if it’s raining or if it is too cold or hot outside, you can find him in the Fitness Center gym riding a stationary bike for 30 minutes or more, and using strength-training equipment to keep his back and legs strong. He still does his own cooking, cleaning and grocery shopping, and gets around town with rides from his good friends, Charlie and Susan.