Century Of Memories:
When Flushing resident Lucia Grieco Danzi first came to the United States in 1916, she was 14-years-old, and ready to start a new life in the land of the free.
left her home in the Italian town of Cerignola to board the ship
“America,” where she stayed in steerage for 29 days, praying and hoping
to reach Ellis Island safely.
90 years later, the modest and sweet woman who friends and relatives
affectionately call “Mama” has become a well-known and beloved figure in
her community, and this week, celebrated a major milestone with neighbors,
relatives, and local politicians as Mama turned 100-years-old.
a party organized by her 80-year-old daughter Mary DeLoria on Aug. 8, Danzi
was given proclamations from State Assemblyman Brian McLaughlin and City
Councilman Tony Avella, and was given gifts from dozens of her friends and
family members, some from Italy. McLaughlin brought “the most delicious
cake you ever tasted,” according to DeLoria, and everyone sang “Happy
Birthday” to the woman whose passion for helping others has made her a
favorite in Flushing and New York.
despite being the center of attention, Danzi was concerned with making sure
her guests were comfortable.
offered people tea and refreshments, and was constantly on her feet. DeLoria
said, “Her mind is wonderful. She does more at 100 than you can imagine.
Her passion is flowers. She absolutely loves to garden. She’s always out
there. She grows tomatoes, basil, all kinds of things . . . She’s a doll.
She’s my baby. And I just love her so much.”
Danzi was born in Cerignola, Italy in July of 1902, she celebrates her
birthday on Aug. 8 because officials in Italy didn’t report her birth
She said, “In Italy, they take their time registering, you know. So, I was born in July, but my date was always Aug. 8.”
that date this year, her home in Flushing was packed with friends and
relatives who wanted to honor her on her 100th birthday. “It was
beautiful,” DeLoria said. “Everyone was welcome. She deserved it.”
the century mark, Danzi said she still enjoys cooking, and said, “That’s
all I do. I love to do it. Cooking pasta and gravy for Sunday dinner. You
know.” Danzi did say she also does the laundry and cleans the house, and
said she likes an organized home.
also an “opera fiend” with a “glorious voice,” according to DeLoria,
who also said that Danzi shops at Marino Bros. every week, and does the
Rosary every night at 9:30 p.m. along with the Prayer Channel.
passion for gardening is also evident in the flowers all over her house and
her extensive garden in the backyard, and DeLoria said of her mother, “She
always loved to garden. Our house had hedges in the front, she ripped them
down and planted flowers. Then everyone else did it. She gave them pointers.
Everyone knows her. She’s like the mayor of the block.” DeLoria pointed
out a seven-foot tall Douglas Fir Tree in front of their home. “She
planted this,” she said. “She planted everything. She has to leave her
mark has also been left by a big family, including three grandchildren, four
great grandchildren, and two grandnieces. Five of her seven younger sisters
are still alive, all in their eighties and nineties. One of her sisters, who
is 95, sent her a big basket of flowers for her birthday, and Danzi said,
“It couldn’t even fit in the door.”
DeLoria said, “The secret to my mother’s longevity is tender, loving
care. Everyone loves her and everyone takes care of her,” Danzi summed up
her long life by saying, “I have never touched wine or beer. I don’t
know what it tastes like till this day. I don’t smoke. Sometimes I eat
some bread with tomato, a little provolone cheese, and that’s it.
Sometimes I have a piece of chocolate or nuts, but I don’t like candy.
Danzi was chosen as one of two women to win the Ellis Island Award, given by
the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Organization, which is a member of the
National Ethnic Coalition. The medal, which Danzi wore during her birthday
celebration, honors immigrants who have interesting stories and have
impacted society in a positive way. Danzi said she was, “honored” to be
given the medal, which she displays in her home, along with other
said, “Our home in filled with stuff. My mother had my father’s newsboy
badge. We have photos and old articles and all kinds of things . . . It’s
important to remember.”
of family are all over the fireplace mantle, which is built in similar
fashion to statues that Danzi used to have in her home in Italy. DeLoria
said, “Mama brought a lot of culture to America with her. In her old town,
kids learned how to carve statues in the streets, so Mama brought them …
Now, the fireplace looks like that.”
has also received letters of recognition from Governor George Pataki, former
Mayor Ed Koch and President George W. Bush.
Danzi was seven, she and her parents tried to go to America, but Danzi was
stopped at the Port of Naples because she had a problem with her eyesight.
Danzi said, “Now, they let anyone in, but then, very strict . . . They
rejected me because I had trouble with my eyes.”
lived with her grandparents until she was 14, and remembered seeing men in
uniform running to catch the bus to go to battle during World War I. She
said, “I remember the boys going to war . . . I cried. It was awful. I
prayed a lot.”
boarded the “America” with her aunt and uncle to go to the United States
in 1916. She said, “They put me in a boat with a preserver over me and it
rocked and rocked. Terrible.” She prayed every day to an Italian monk,
Padre Pio, who later became her patron saint,
that she would safely arrive in America. DeLoria said, “She always
prayed. She’s a very religious Catholic. And it helped, because she made
remembered going through Ellis Island, and said, “They just kept telling
me to follow people and I got through the gates.” Her aunt and uncle
didn’t speak English well, so when asked what their niece’s name was,
they said “Rose.” DeLoria said with a laugh, “Everyone was Rose back
then. So they called her Rose. It was an interesting start to an interesting
Danzi arrived in Manhattan, she lived on 11th Street on the lower East Side
with her parents and six younger sisters. She got a job working on a
button-hole machine at a factory on Fifth Avenue that made children’s
clothes. She said, “When I got to America, I got a job right away . . .
The woman there taught me how to use the button hole machine. She was nice.
She treated me well.”
night when she was 16, Danzi attended a wedding for a friend of the
family’s – one she didn’t want to attend. She said, “I didn’t want
to go, but my mother told me we had to go for this woman, so I did.”
was the right decision, because at the wedding, Danzi met her future husband
Dominick. She said, “I saw this man. He was 19 at the time. He was
handsome . . . He was born here in America, so our language was not the
same. But we loved each other.”
Danzi, a dairyman who worked as a newspaper boy as a child, married Lucia in
1918, and the couple had two children, Michael and DeLoria. Both children
attended PS 122 –
the same school that Dominick Danzi attended as a child.
son Michael spent four years in the United States Army in World War II, with
two of them spent on the front lines. DeLoria said, “Mama was in church
every day. Mary Help of Christians was our parish. She spent the whole war
in there, I think.” Michael returned with the Bronze Star, and Danzi said,
“He came back beautiful. You wouldn’t even know he was there.”
family moved to Queens about 45 years ago, after Danzi’s husband died and
both children got married. DeLoria first lived with Michael and then DeLoria
in their current home at 166th Street and 29th Avenue.
Although Michael died at age 44 of a stroke while vacationing in Florida, and Danzi said, “I lost my boy,” she still keeps a picture of him on her mantle, and said, “I pray for him a lot. He makes me stronger, and I’ll always remember his beautiful face.”
in Manhattan, Danzi lived in the same building as one of her sisters who had
a child with Cerebral Palsy. DeLoria said, “She treated him like her own
child. You should have seen him, he had such beautiful blue eyes . . . Mama
would carry him on her back.”
quickly pointed out that he was a “good boy,” who got married and had
three kids before he passed away. She said, “He was good. He turned out
love of her nephew made DeLoria sensitive to the needs of people with
Cerebral Palsy, and she became a leading volunteer in the fight to help
people suffering from the affliction. She said, “I worked for Chase Bank,
and we really advocated volunteerism. I worked to raise money for United
Cerebral Palsy through telethons and all kinds of things . . . Mama was
there. She stuffed envelopes and everything. She worked really hard because
she cared . . . When we moved to Queens, I would have children with Cerebral
Palsy come over for sleepovers. Mama cooked for them and everything.”
Manhattan, Danzi also baked for the church and helped feed those in need
during the Depression. She also taught herself to speak and read English,
and became an honorary member of the “Children of Mary.” DeLoria said,
“She has a wonderful heart.”
the end of the 100th birthday, McLaughlin said, “Invite me back next year.
I look forward to celebrating Mama Danzi’s 101st birthday.”
DeLoria said, “I’m sure I’ll be making the arrangements for that before you know it.”
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