Celebrating a centennial birthday
ELSA KERSCHNER/SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS The Rev. Joseph Grembocki and Monsignor James Mulligan of Assumption BVM Roman Catholic Church in Slatington attended the 100th birthday celebration to honor Elisa Delgreco.
Elisa Delgreco was born in a small village, Zuperelli, in Italy on Oct. 25, 1909, where life was very hard. Today, 100 years later, she sits comfortably in a soft chair near a fire in Slatington and rejoices in the things that matter most to her in all the world her family.
"Family. That's the most important thing in life," she says.
Elisa is the mother of two daughters, six grandchildren, six great-grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren.
As the oldest of eight surviving children to Maria and Crescenzo, Elisa remembers growing up often without shoes or socks to wear. They had no electricity and helped her family sharecropping, selling what they could for personal things such as soap, oil, pots and pans. All the cooking was done over an open fire and they had no heat in their home. They took their dirty clothes to the nearby river to wash.
Elisa met Frank Delgreco and they were married in 1934. They had their first child, Maria in 1935. The little family moved to England, hoping to find jobs and a better way of life.
But soon war came to England and they sent their little girl back to family in Italy where they thought she would be safer. They had a second daughter, Anna. The Delgrecos were working at Gellos, a restaurant in London where Elisa was a cook earning about $15 a week. They worked different shifts so there was always someone home with Anna.
When they were finally able to get a little ahead and the war ended in 1945, they sent for their daughter Maria.
Elisa and Frank went on to work for Connaught Rooms, a top hotel and conference center in London. Elisa worked in housekeeping and Frank in the kitchen. They often traveled back to Italy to visit family.
Elisa retired and then Frank, the love of her life, passed away in 1988. She was content to putter in her garden and visit with family and friends.
When her daughter Maria married an American serviceman, Bill Leickel, they eventually settled in Slatington. Frank and Elisa had visited Maria and Bill and their four children twice. Her other daughter, Anna had married and had two sons. She passed away at the age of 44 from cancer.
In 1996, Elisa moved to Slatington to live with Maria and her husband.
She enjoys going out for breakfast or lunch and shopping.
"I don't want to sit in a chair all the time doing nothing," she says.
When asked how she likes living in America, she smiles and shrugs her shoulders.
"Anywhere you go, you find good and bad people. I'm just pleased to be with family."
She is in very good health, taking only one pill a day for high blood pressure and one for arthritis. She enjoys eating fruit and she has two glasses of wine every night with dinner.
"Carlo Rossi Burgundy. It's good for the blood. Like medicine," she said, smiling.
She recalls how back in Italy they made their own wine and sold it.
"I had to work very hard. I never went to school, never learned to read or write, just my name."
A dinner to celebrate her 100th birthday was held Oct. 25 at the Terrace Restaurant, with 37 guests of family and friends, and hosted by her daughter and son-in-law.
State Rep. Julie Harhart presented a citation, but before reading it she said, "You have quite a history. You made it to 100 years old."
Harhart had to put on her glasses to read the citation and family members pointed out that Delgreco did not need glasses.
Elisa told Harhart about making sausage and carrying six chickens at a time to market, which was seven miles away.
Harhart asked how she carried them and was told they were in a basket she carried on her head. Harhart said she'd love to sit down and talk to her sometime and hear more of her stories.
A nephew from England, Enzo Delgreco, read a birthday card and certificate from the Queen of England.
The queen's photo was on the front of the card. In place of a stamp it read "Buckingham Palace, Royal Mail, London."
The card read, "I send my congratulations and best wishes to you on such a special occasion," and was signed Elizabeth R.
Other overseas visitors were her sister, Eva Delgreco Visocchi from Italy; Pat Main from Scotland; and, by means of a phone call from Italy, Marco and Marcello, sons of Bruno and Anna Picano, Elisa's sister.
Monsignor James Mulligan and the Rev. Joseph Grembocki of Assumption BVM Roman Catholic Church in Slatington attended to honor her. As part of the pre-dinner prayer Grembocki thanked God for "the gift of long life."
After a chorus of "Happy Birthday," Elisa thanked everyone who attended and shared with them her cake with large pink roses.
As she looks back over all the years, Elisa says that the only thing she can think of to attribute her long life to is being with family.