By Kyle LoJacono
In 1911 William Howard Taft was president, there were only 46 states and a loaf of bread cost 5 cents. That was the world Land O’ Lakes resident Rosalia Martinez was born into.
Martinez was born in Santiago, Cuba on Nov. 13, 1911 and just celebrated her 99th birthday. She left the island nation in 1961 to escape Fidel Castro’s Communist government and moved to New Jersey. She has since lived in Puerto Rico and Miami before coming to central Pasco County last July.
“I really like it here,” Martinez said. “Miami was too big of a city. I like it here because there (are) less people and traffic. Here I know most of the people I see.”
Martinez is the third of seven siblings born of Rosalia and Angel Martinez. Her parents were originally from Asturias, Spain. She now lives with her niece, Lucille Fernandez.
“She has always been a self-sufficient lady and even now she uses the money she earned working her whole life to live on,” said Fernandez, who also came from Cuba, but in 1963. “She worked as a secretary in the big courthouse in Santiago and was eventually the secretary for the president of the courthouse. She got a college degree from (Instituto Santiago Business) and worked in the courthouse for 30 years.”
Martinez said she was very happy in Cuba and had everything she needed until Castro took over. Then things became very difficult and she decided to come to America.
She had to forfeit all of her possessions when she came to the United States, but managed to smuggle $500 through hidden in a purse with a false bottom. She said a friend served three months in a Cuban jail for trying to do the same thing.
“I love it in this country,” Martinez said. “It is so much better than Cuba with the Communists. There you can’t do anything now. Here you have freedom.”
She moved to Puerto Rico to manage one of her brother Ignacio Martinez’s businesses. She came back to the mainland because of high crime on the island. She was once held at gunpoint while managing the store. She moved to Miami and eventually retired.
Despite being in her 80s and 90s in Miami, she said most of her friends where 10-20 years younger. She loved driving and was the person who took them everywhere in South Florida.
She was still driving until last December. She gave up her license at that time, but it would have remained valid until next year. She added she may go back and try and get her license at some point.
“She has a chauffeur now — me,” Fernandez said with a laugh. “… The place we go the most is The Shops at Wiregrass. She likes going to Macy’s because she loves to wear the newest fashion for her age. Her only credit card is from Macy’s.”
Carmen Serrano, Martinez’s great-niece, said she still reads magazines like Vanity Fair and People to stay up-to-date on fashion.
“She goes all over the mall and it’s hard to keep up with her,” Serrano said. “Her energy is amazing. One time we went to walk down an escalator that was wasn’t moving and I turned to tell some people behind us she was in her 90s and it would be a little while for her to get down. By the time I turned around she was already on the bottom and I was the one holding things up.”
Martinez has no major health issues, but did suffer a broken hip while walking last Father’s Day. She vowed to get back shopping in two months and did just that.
“She’s very determined person,” Serrano said. “She’s just a great lady.”
Martinez never married and has no children, but she has always remained social. Besides going to the mall, she still goes to church at Our Lady of the Rosary Church and goes to restaurants with her family and friends regularly. She said her health comes from staying active and social.
“Maybe it’s good genes or good luck,” Martinez said. “I don’t have a secret. Just stay happy, active and social.”