“Big deal!” Vicki Russo chuckled.
The lifelong South Amherst resident said her upcoming 100th birthday is nothing to hoot and holler about.
“I don’t feel any different than I did 10 years ago,” Russo said, walking around her Elm Street home with ease. Hitting the century mark “to most people is crazy, but to me, it’s just another day,” she said.
As Russo nears her March 3 birthday, her hometown will celebrate its own. This year, Russo and South Amherst will celebrate their long, intertwined histories.
Back in 1918, the village was incorporated and Fred Ruth was chosen as the first mayor — one of 12 elected during Russo’s lifetime.
When she was born, Woodrow Wilson was the president of the United States, the world was still in the throes of its first World War, segregation was still legal, and women weren’t allowed to vote.
Russo’s family was the first in town to purchase a television, and she remembers huddling around the set and watching Neil Armstrong step foot on the moon.
People used to line up outside of the village’s town hall to get bread and eggs during the Great Depression, she recalls. She remembers historic events with a little prompting from her loved ones, but the memories that bubble up most easily tend to be stories about family and friends — after all, they are the most important ones.
When she was in high school, there wasn’t a Catholic church in South Amherst. On Good Friday, Russo and her friends would walk all the way to Amherst to go to church — it was their way of getting out of class and being rebellious, she said. She giggled remembering it, her shoulders shaking with laughter.
There used to be a movie theater, dry cleaner, and a small grocery shop at the corner of Maple Street, but now those establishments are long gone. Russo said not much else has changed — life in South Amherst is steady and sweet and she finds comfort in the familiarity.
Life is a bit different now than it was in 1918, and the advancements continue to blow her mind. Watching her sons pay bills using their cell phones is shocking. Russo still pays her bills by check, mailed in stamped envelopes.
“I’ve had a great life,” she said. “I had as many problems as anybody else, but I enjoyed every bit of it.”
What are her secrets for longevity and staying vibrant? “Be kind to everybody and be tolerant,” Russo said. “Be your own boss and don’t let anybody run over you. I don’t, anyhow.”
She never drank, never smoked, and used to go on walks every single day with her husband Michael.
They were married nearly 74 years before he passed away three years ago at age 94.
The Russos had three children: sons Jan, 69, and Tom, 61, both live South Amherst. John, who would have been in his 70s, died shortly after delivery. There are three grandchildren and one great-grandson.
Laurie Hamame can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @HamameNews on Twitter.
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