Regina Petrone will be the first to admit that she’s not as agile as she used to be.
After all, at 105, who is?
But the Land O’ Lakes woman still lives on her own, drives herself to the bank and grocery store, and makes scarves and hats for the homeless.
Recently, she celebrated her 105th birthday, at a party hosted by her son, Pete, who lives just minutes away.
“The party at Pete’s house was such a wonderful feeling,” Regina said.
It was a nice Italian meal, complete with special cupcakes.
“They had 105 balloons all over the floor. They had balloons all over the ceiling,” Regina said.
Pete chimed in: “We had a big sign outside.”
That celebration, though, was small, compared to the party for Regina’s 100th birthday.
A limousine picked her up at her house to drive her to the party at Grace Family Church, in Lutz.
“That was the best party ever, ever,” Regina said. “I just had the feeling of peace and contentment.
“Everybody was happy. We had like 60, 70 people,” Regina said.
Pete interjected: “Try like 120.”
“All of my family were there. Nieces and nephews,” Regina said.
Friends came in from New York, too, Pete said.
But those were just two of the special birthday parties Regina has enjoyed through the years.
There was another one, in particular, that played a pivotal role in her life.
That was the party when she had her first date, with her future husband — John Anthony Petrone, whom she’d met a few months before.
“I worked in the library. He worked in A & P (grocery store), which was around the corner from the library,” she said.
“I used to go in there every day to buy some greens because that’s what my mother wanted.
“She made soup every night.
“I would go at lunchtime.
“That’s where I met him.
“I paid no attention to him. After a while, he started asking me out.
“I said, ‘No, no, no.
“That went from February to July,” Regina said.
“He told me he was having a birthday party. I said, ‘OK.’
“My mother said, ‘Go, have fun.’
“So, I went to the birthday party, which was in Hicksville, and I met his family, who were terrific.
“They treated me so good — like a sister — right away,” said Regina, who grew up in Glen Cove.
John grew up in Hicksville, where he lived with his brothers and his sisters. They lived on their own because their parents had died.
Regina and John married in October, with the expectation that John’s military service would end in January. Instead, World War II broke out and John was assigned to help protect the Panama Canal Zone, where he served until the end of the war.
Creating a home life in Hicksville
After John returned, the couple settled in John’s hometown. That’s where they raised their five boys: Chuck, Anthony, Pete, Bill and Timothy (who died in his 40s from a car accident).
John sold insurance and Regina ran the house — making meals from scratch, and canning fruits and vegetables from the family’s half-acre garden.
The days started early, Regina said.
“I’ve been getting up at 5 o’clock in the morning ever since the kids were small,” she said.
It took a couple of hours each morning to make the boys breakfast and get them ready for school, she said.
Though they grew up in a close-knit family, the boys are scattered now.
Pete lives minutes away from Regina. Chuck lives in Dallas, Georgia; Anthony, in Anchorage, Alaska; and, Bill, in New London, Connecticut.
Regina talks frequently with her sons and other family members on the phone.
She also stays in regular contact with two dear friends — Debbi Lizza and Joanne Berger — who keep her posted on what’s happening in Hicksville.
“We write each other every week. Every once in a while, we call. But we’re old-fashioned, we like to write. They’re always sending me little goodies,” she said.
Regina moved to Florida in 2004, after living in Pennsylvania for four years.
Her sons wanted her to move closer to family, so she did.
She and her boys have rich memories of the life they had in Hicksville.
“They were wonderful kids. I have wonderful boys. None of them give me any problems,” Regina said.
The family garden was a source of food for the family, and a way to make money, too.
“You name it. We had it,” Pete said.
“From radishes to pumpkins. Broccoli. Cabbage,” Regina said.
“Potatoes. Strawberries. Asparagus,” Pete added.
“All kinds of berries,” Regina continued. “Apples. Pears. Peaches.”
And, corn and cucumbers, too.
Pete’s brothers share those vivid recollections of the family garden.
“We had just about everything you can think of — any kind of vegetable,” Chuck said. “We canned our own food. We made our own jellies and jams.
“We had a root cellar where we kept our potatoes and onions and carrots,” Chuck said.
The family raised chickens and sold eggs, too.
“The kids sold the vegetables that were left over, in a little farm stand. That was their allowance — from what they sold, the eggs and the vegetables,” Regina said.
Besides picking vegetables, the boys did other chores.
“In high school, we all started cutting firewood. We worked really hard doing that. That’s how we made our money in high school,” Anthony said.
Work was such a regular part of their life — they didn’t see it so much as work but as part of their daily routine, Bill said.
Chuck noted: “All of us, when we started working — whatever job we did, delivering newspapers, peddling vegetables around the neighborhood — we had to give at least 10% to our mother for what she called ‘room and board.’ And then, when we became 18, she gave us all that money. And more.”
Family rules were crystal clear, Anthony said.
“It was a very disciplined household. Dinner was every day at 5 o’clock,” he said. And, when the church bells rang at 7 o’clock, it was time to be home.
But there was more to life than hard work, rules and responsibilities, the boys said.
They also knew how to have fun
“We would go to the beach almost every day for an hour or two,” Chuck said.
Of course, Chuck added: “If we didn’t do what we were supposed to do, we didn’t go to the beach that day.”
Bill remembers the lively family gatherings.
“We’d have these big barbecues in our backyard. You’re having like 50 people or more — 25 kids running around the place.
“My mother cooked all of the food,” he said.
Her pies, he added, were legendary: “Her pies are still talked about today.”
The family had lots of pets, too.
“We had rabbits at one time,” Regina said. “I had one snake in the house. And, I hate snakes.
“But one of my boys liked snakes and it got loose.”
There were dogs, too.
“My husband was a hunter,” Regina said, so they had golden retrievers, English Springers and all kinds of other dogs.
Regina had a turtle.
It was one of those turtles people used to buy for a quarter, she said.
Regina’s turtle lived for more than 50 years, moving freely about the house, just like a member of the family.
She called him Turtle.
“I was not imaginative,” she said, with a laugh.
Anthony added: “We had a big black cat called Mother Cat because she got pregnant every three months.”
The family sat together in front of the TV, to take in football and baseball games.
“I was an avid baseball and football fan, when my husband was alive and my children were all together,” Regina said. Her favorite teams were the Mets, the Jets and the Brooklyn Dodgers — before the Dodgers moved away.
Over the years, Regina said, she’s always enjoyed a good laugh.
She remembers Chuck coming home after school, with a joke for her he’d picked up that day.
“I always looked forward to them,” Regina said.
Now, he sends her five pages to six pages of jokes every month, that he finds by scouring the internet.
Throughout Regina’s life, most of her focus has been on the family. But she also has been active in charitable pursuits. She volunteered at a soup kitchen, and at a rock and butterfly museum, and in literacy efforts.
She still uses her talents to help others.
“I like to crochet,” Regina said. “I’m making scarves and hats for the homeless.”
She estimates she’s made about 300 pieces, which are distributed through Grace Family Church.
She still enjoys doing puzzle books and watches a limited amount of TV.
“I don’t put the TV on until 5 o’clock. Then I look at the news for an hour, at the most — the news is terrible. Then, I Iook at Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy, and some of the game shows,” she said.
She likes card games and typically plays once or twice month, when a nephew and his wife come by.
Although she still drives, she sticks to daytime hours and never goes out on main roads.
But, Pete said, she’s not stuck at home. “We go out at least three days a week, to get her out of the house.
“Whatever she needs, she gets,” he added.
Her sons marvel at their mom’s longevity.
Regina offers a simple explanation for her lengthy life: “If it wasn’t God’s will, I wouldn’t be here.”
At 105, she’s still going strong
Born July 3, 1916, in West Hampton on Long Island
Married to John Anthony Petrone, on Oct. 19, 1941 (She’d been married to John for 45 years, when he died on Nov. 22, 1986)
The couple had five sons: Chuck (Dallas, Georgia); Anthony (Anchorage, Alaska); Pete (Land O’ Lakes); Bill (New London, Connecticut); Timothy (deceased)
Regina has seven grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren
She’s a woman with definite preferences
Favorite foods: “American food. I like ordinary steak and potatoes. Pork chops. Hamburger. American food. Soup.”
Dessert: “I do like lemon meringue pie. And I do like a nice, delicious — it has to be delicious — chocolate cake. It has to be delicious. It can’t be run-of-the-mill.”
Movies: “Movies? I didn’t have a favorite. We didn’t go to movies too much. I was not a movie-goer.”
Music: “My favorite singer was Nat King Cole. I loved him. After him, was Dean Martin. I loved him. Of course, Perry Como.”
Card games: “My favorite is pinochle, but nobody plays pinochle.”
Some facts about 1916, the year Regina was born
The U.S. population was slightly under 102 million
Monet painted his Water Lilies series
A stamp cost 2 cents
Sugar was about 4 cents a pound
The light switch was invented
The Boston Red Sox won the World Series
A house in the U.S. cost about $5,000; a car, $400
The first 40-hour work week officially began
Nathan’s hot-dog-eating competition got its start
Just 6% of Americans were high school graduates
The Eiffel Tower was the world’s tallest building
Just 8% of homes had telephones
Albert Einstein published his theory of relativity (in full mathematical detail)
The National Park Service was born
The Professional Golfers Association began*
Excerpts from a list compiled by Annette and Chuck Petrone, to mark Regina Petrone’s 105th birthday
*Regina told The Laker/Lutz News: “I walked a golf course once and I got freckles. I said, ‘No more.’”
Published August 11, 2021