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Ida Totani celebrates 100th birthday

  • SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Ida Totani, seated center, celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by her family. With her here are some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Front row, from left, Lauren Cavanagh, Ida, Sara DiGrazia and Luke…
    SPECIAL TO THE TIMES NEWS Ida Totani, seated center, celebrated her 100th birthday surrounded by her family. With her here are some of her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Front row, from left, Lauren Cavanagh, Ida, Sara DiGrazia and Luke Cavanagh. Second row, Alexandria DiGrazia, Elizabeth Clewell, Allison Cavanagh, Theresa Totani, Kristan Campanaro and Emily Cavanagh. Standing, Maria Cavanagh. In the background is part of a timeline the family created to document her life.
Published February 26. 2010 05:00PM

Ida (Fortunato) Totani celebrated her 100th birthday last Saturday.

She was born Feb. 20, 1910 in Fontanelle, Italy, to Sofia and Nicola Fortunato.

At the age of 2, six months after the tragic sinking of the Titanic, Ida along with her parents and two sisters, ages 5 and 10 months, boarded an ocean liner bound for America.

They arrived at Penn's Landing, Philadelphia, in October of 1912, where a sponsor led her family via train and trolley, to the small anthracite mining towns of Jim Thorpe (Mauch Chunk) and Lansford in Carbon County.

The family settled in Lansford, where the main source of employment was coal mining.

The family grew to include 10 siblings, seven survived to adulthood. Today, Ida, along with sisters, Jeanette Sandella, 94, and Mary Misantone, 92, are the last of the Fortunato matriarchs.

Before entering elementary school, Ida would sit at home with her older sister Rosanna to learn the English language and other primary subjects. Rosanna was such a huge influence on her, that Ida was able to complete first and second grades in one year.

She graduated with honors from St. Ann High School in 1927. She would have liked to go to college to become a teacher, but her family had a son who they thought needed the financial support more than a daughter. Instead she worked at a small Woolworth 5 and 10 Cent Store for $7 a week.

At the age of 18, Ida married Dominic Totani, who immigrated to the United States when he was a young boy of 16. Together they raised seven children.

Initially, Ida was an ordinary housewife and mother. In the 1940s she helped manage a small kitchen restaurant at the Greenwood Inn in Seek. In 1947, Ida and her husband opened their own restaurant, hotel, and catering business in Lansford, Hotel Aquila, (named after the city in Italy where her husband was born and where the recent Italian earthquake occurred).

It came to be a family business, instilling a very strong work ethic in all her children. Locally, she was especially popular for introducing homemade pizza into the Panther Valley area and cooking for wedding parties of up to 250 people.

All seven of her children have gone on to be successful in their individual fields, from medicine to mechanics, textiles to teaching.

Today, Ida's family includes all seven of her children: Dr. Louis Totani and his wife Janet; Rose Ann Bales and her husband, Louis; John Totani, husband of the late Norma; Inez Larichuita and her husband Albert; Nicholas Totani and his wife Nancy; Sofia Mathews and her husband George; and Mary Elizabeth Totani.

She also has 23 grandchildren, 38 great-grandchildren, and four great-great-grandchildren.

Ida says the secrets to her longevity are family, reading, knitting, canning tomatoes, cooking with olive oil and fresh ingredients, keeping current with the news and making pizelles. She tries to do a little gardening and lately, the family says they have had to hide the large tools, such as the step ladder and wheelbarrow.

Ida says her body says she is 100, but her spirit disagrees and says 18!

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