In 1911, the year of Grace Russo’s birth, there had been no World Wars, no talking movies for the public to attend, and the interstate highway system did not exist.
Obviously she’s seen a lot in her long life.
One hundred and two years later, on July 31, Russo celebrated her birthday at Alaris Health at The Fountains South, Secaucus, where she has been a resident for four years.
“I’m happy to be here,” Russo said on Aug. 16. “It’s great to be here and talking about 102.”
Memories of Jersey City
Russo had been a lifelong resident of Jersey City prior to moving into the nursing facility. She fondly recalled her many years in the Heights section.
“I have a lot of memories of Jersey City,” she said. “We played ball on the street, like all the other kids. We played hopscotch and a lot of other stuff. It was a lot of fun. We used to get up in the morning, have breakfast, and go out and play.”
A career as a seamstress
Russo worked for more than 50 years as a seamstress in a garment factory prior to her retirement.
“I made dresses, I made skirts, I made pants. I made anything,” she said.
In fact, Russo stopped working at 75 only because the factory was shutting down.
A full life
“I know that she has had a full life,” said Pat Meyers, associate administrator of Alaris at The Fountains. “She has had a very full life.”
Recently it has been about her new one here, one that she has taken to quite easily, according to Meyers.
“She socializes with the other residents,” she said. “She goes to activities and she’s productive.”
“I say, ‘Hello, how you doing?,’ ” said Maryann Mitchell, a fellow resident. “She’s a feisty one. She’s all ‘with it.’ Her mind is together. Grace knows exactly what she’s saying.”
Russo gets regular visits from family and friends, many of them from her former church, St. Ann’s in Jersey City, according to Hannia Melendez, R.N., nurse manager, who oversees Russo’s care.
“She’s very happy when they come,” Melendez said. “It’s the one thing that gets her ‘up.’ ”
“And just being around (others),” she said. “She likes music. She likes when we have entertainment.”
“When she hears music from her own era, she gets very excited,” said Michael Berman, recreation director at the facility.
Russo agreed with Berman’s and Melendez’s assessments.
“It’s great to be here and talking about 102.” – Grace Russo
Russo said she spends a lot of her time writing and participating in creative endeavors.
“She very into arts and crafts; she’s very passionate about it,” said Berman. “She enjoys coloring and painting.”
The big party
Ken Wessler, manager of Muhlenberg Gardens in Jersey City, where Russo was formerly a resident, organized her party on the 31st. Wessler arranged a bus to transport friends, food from Podewitz’s Deli, balloons, flowers, and the birthday cake to The Fountains.
“A reunion with her friends – and to be the focus of such a unique event – was truly a thrill for Grace,” Meyers said. “Her family, including her great, great grandchildren, was also present for the celebration. It was a very special acknowledgement.”
A history of involvement
While she lived at Muhlenberg Gardens, Russo was an active community member who always volunteered to cook for bake sales or plan parties such as the annual Oktoberfest.
“She was absolutely involved in everything, even in her 90s,” Wessler said. “Grace’s hand would go up before I even asked for volunteers. She was a vital part of our community for years and made many friends who were delighted to reconnect for her birthday.”
Wessler added, “Grace was so pleased to see her friends gathered. She said to me, ‘This is a sight I will never forget. If I never see another sight for the rest of my life, this is enough for me.’ ”
Joseph Passantino may be reached at JoePass@hudsonreporter.com.