Nutter’s Centenarian Salute


Some fun facts: there are 174 Philadelphians turning 100 this year; 506 centenarians in Philly; and 5,140 centenarians in Pennsylvania. More than 100 such figures were scheduled to attend Mayor Michael Nutter’s 15th Annual Centenarian Celebration at The Sheet Metal Workers Union Hall, 1301 S. Columbus Blvd., May 21.

Stylized as “Saluting Centenarians: A Celebration for the Ages,” eligible attendees need to be a century-old or turning 100 in 2015. This celebration was initiated as part of National Older Americans Month in ’01, and it was part of the City’s efforts to mark the anniversary of the historic century-old City Hall.

“There are very few centenarian celebrations of this magnitude, in which a city recognizes the achievements and lives of its residents,” Nutter said in a statement to the press. “My administration has been committed to providing services so that every citizen, especially our seniors, can lead high-quality, independent lives. These amazing seniors are among the oldest people in the world, and have been part of the backbone of our communities, working and raising families in Philadelphia.”

Plenty of South Philadelphians were in attendance. Celestine Zambino, of the 2400 block of South Hutchinson Street, is 103 and will turn 104 in September. She lived at 18th and Wolf streets for years but recently and reluctantly moved in with her daughter, Vickie Cecchini. She didn’t have much of her hearing capacity, so her offspring spoke as a conduit. Cecchini said the house she grew up in in Marconi was “always jumpin’ and always full of food to eat.” Her mother married at 16 and had her first child a year later. Her late husband was a painter and paper-hanger and passed in 1977.

No doubt, Zambino protected her kids and her family through many ups and downs, especially economic. Her daughter said, “I wish I could get her to write a book about her life and the struggles she went through, you know, what she went through with money.”

Speaking of her childhood, Cecchini said “those days were better. It was slower, nicer. You had more time to be with your family — life was so much better back then.

“She was so fussy, such a worrywart,” Cecchini said of her mother, always deeply involved in all eight of her children’s lives.

There are 25 years between her youngest and oldest siblings, the oldest is 84. She now enjoys 65 grand and great-grandchilren.

“If she could’ve had 50 kids, she would’ve had 50 kids,” Cecchini said.

Mildred Armentani is 102. She lives on the 2500 block of South Jessup Street, the mother of five children.

“She does not take one pill,” her daughter, Patti Testa, reported. “Her blood pressure’s better than mine.”

Maybe it’s the seek-and-find puzzles and solitaire she plays every night.

Armentani is a South Philly native who attended Southwark School, 1835 S. Ninth St. Testa and her sister Genevieve said “she’s a tough cookie.” She took a fall at her previous one-bedroom apartment and, to the amazement of her doctors and children, didn’t break a bone or bleed.

On her fall, where her walker hit her head, they said her doctor reported “No one will believe this.” The Lower Moyamensing resident has 11 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and six great, great grandchildren. She waved her hand and said “I got so many!” As the band played “Happy Birthday” and Nutter cut a cake that spelled out “1 0 0,” Armentani tapped time on the yellow tablecloth.

“Our centenarians, what a great, great group of people,” Nutter said before he visited each centenarian for a hug, kiss and photo opportunity.

“I hope to come to this luncheon one day myself, but I can wait,” he joked, before he rattled off a few facts: Theodore Roosevelt was the president at the time of many of these centenarians’ births, and Oklahoma had just become a state in our Union.

The Centenarian celebration media information was full of fun facts: Gertrude Weaver, 116, of Arkansas is the world’s oldest verified living human; according to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are more than 53,000 centenarians in the United States; the European 2015 Aging Report says the life expectancy of the world’s population ranges from 79 to 85 for men and 83 to 89 for women; and the longest known lifespan of any human belongs to France’s Jeanne Calment, who died at 122 in 1997.

“She loves him!” Testa said of the mayor and riffed on Nutter’s point that this was before Facebook and cell phones: “There shouldn’t be none of that now!”

The sisters said Armentani stays busy around the house, too.

“She has to dry every dish [after dinner],” one said. The other said “she has to fold all my clothes from the dryer.”

Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at or ext. 117.



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