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100-year-old fondly recalls life

Anna Zummo was only 4 years old when she came to the United States from her native Sicily. Last week she celebrated her 100th birthday at Casa del Robles, an assisted living facility in Largo, and with family in Brooksville.

Born Dec. 28, 1900, the third child of Marie Mesina and John LaCascia in the village of Casa del Rovles, Sicily, her given name was Giacoma. Things changed for her after she came to America _ including her name.

That trip remains vivid in Mrs. Zummo's memory, even after 96 years.

It was 1904 when she crossed the ocean with her mother and three siblings. Her father had come earlier. After he found work and purchased an apartment, he sent for his family. But the trip overseas included a scare.

"I remember being called up on deck," Mrs. Zummo said. "I was crying. Everyone was shouting that the boat was sinking."

In terror, the 4-year-old grabbed her mother, who was holding her baby brother. She still remembers the sound of lifeboats hitting the surface of the water and the shrill alarm. Luckily, it was a false alarm.

When they got off the boat at Ellis Island, the little girl was told by officials that her name, Giacoma, was too difficult to spell, so they changed her identity on the spot to Anna. The LaCascia family settled first in Brooklyn and later moved to Queens.

Her father, one of few immigrants who could read and write, made a decent living delivering wine and beer. Later, he imported olive oil and wine from their village. After having four more children, her parents opened a grocery store.

"I worked from the time I was a child, often with a baby sister or brother on my hip," says Mrs. Zummo, who treasures the value of work. "Everyone was expected to help."

Later, they bought a large building that became a laundry and ironing service. Again, all eight children helped their parents in the family business.

Mrs. Zummo fondly remembers their home and a horse named Maggie.

As soon as the automobile appeared, her big brother bought one. When she was old enough, she would borrow it constantly. Until one night in 1934.

Her brother had a serious accident, and since then, she has never driven a car.

When the Depression hit in 1929, the LaCascia family was devastated. They lost their business and their home. But, working together, the family survived.

Things began to look up, when Mrs. Zummo met American-born Nicholas James Zummo, whose family had immigrated to Pennsylvania from the same village in Sicily as her family. He would ride over to Long Island on his motorcycle. Relatives introduced them.

"This was how you met back then. You dated and married Sicilians and preferably Sicilians from your own village."

They were married in 1928. He was a plumbing contractor. They lived in Queens.

She worked in a New York City department store and later as a seamstress and dress designer in the garment district.

"I didn't retire until I was 62. Work never hurt anyone. It made me a better person. Strong and independent."

Her husband died in 1968. She moved to Seminole in 1970 and lived in Seminole Gardens for many years. She is still very proud of her title as Seminole Garden's Shuffle Board Champion.

"I won even though I was the oldest competitor. I beat all the men," she boasts.

Mrs. Zummo lived at Oak Manor briefly until she moved last year to Casa del Robles.

Her favorite pastime was walking and swimming. Up until recently, she would walk for miles.

Mrs. Zummo says that she feels sorry for people today "because of the little things they are missing. In my generation, neighbors took care of each other. We had block parties and costume parties every weekend."

Everyone in the family had an instrument, and every night they would get together to play music. She played the violin.

To this day, she retains a keen sense of humor. She says she feels no more than 70 and is quick to make a joke about her age.

"I haven't the slightes idea of how I've lived this long. I guess I can't die if I want to."

To celebrate Mrs. Zummo's birthday, there was a party at Casa del Robles on Dec. 28 followed by a trip with her two daughters, Gerri and Rosemarie, to Brooksville for an extended family gathering including her five grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren.

Family and friends will be there from all over the country, and tables will be loaded with favorite dishes cooked by her daughters from recipes in a Sicilian cookbook.

_ Information from a speech by Stefanie Ambrosio, a granddaughter of Anna Zummo and Florida State University student, was used in this report. To submit an item to Good for You, write to Betsy Bolger-Paulet, 710 Court St., Clearwater, FL 33756, or call (727) 445-4176 Monday or Tuesday.