Italo Charles “Charlie” Franza experienced a milestone birthday on Jan. 5, and on Jan. 7, nearly 50 residents at the Meadows at Mitchell Field — where Franza resides —, along with public officials, members of the American Legion Post 1082, and members of the East Meadow Fire Department helped him celebrate.
One hundred years ago Franza was born in Philadelphia, but after landing on Long Island due to his time in the United States Army-Air Force, and then as a photo lab technician at Mitchel Air Force Base in Hempstead during World War II, he stayed in East Meadow, meeting his wife, Nettie. They wed in 1949 and never left. Together they raised four boys — George, Theodore, David, and Robert.
Franza had a birthday party in the morning and later in the day was treated to a birthday drive-by from Post 1082 and the EMFD. Old fashioned cars and military vehicles drove by and fire trucks flashed their lights and sounded their horns as Franza looked on excitedly. When the drive-by finished, he was presented with citations from local officials, and was overjoyed to hear everyone sing Happy Birthday.
“You guys did a beautiful job,” Franza said.
“I think it was President Reagan that said that people who say there are no heroes just don’t know where to look,” Senator Steve Rhoads said. “Because right here as an Air Force veteran, we have an American hero, we have an American icon.”
Neighbors of Franza at the Meadows kept talking about how much of a flirt he is throughout the housing complex.
“He is the sweetest man in this community, and he always says hello to everybody,” Annette DiMaria, a resident and the entertainment chair said. “He’s so respectful and he’s had a lot of girlfriends, and he used to come play bingo and hand out lollipops to everyone.”
When he was discharged from the Air Force, Franza was a photo lithographer for various companies. “We used to do all the color separations, and then they used to use them on the press to print,” Franza said. “So this was all mostly high class work from Estee Lauder, a whole bunch of cosmetic companies, my employer used to have them as customers and I would be the first one to get the photos and reproduce them.”
Franza did that for over 30 years, along with teaching his trade to union apprentices before retiring in 1989.
Steve Felber, Franza’s grandson described his grandfather as caring, selfless, and lovable. “He would visit with my grandmother and he was always so fun,” Felber, who lives in Medford, said. “He would dance around and sing and he was so entertaining.”
Franza said that Felber comes by all the time to help with whatever he needs.
When asked what his secret was to making it to 100, he attributed it to being a lover. “A lot of these ladies helped me,” Franza said. “Every Saturday I’d come here for breakfast, they’ll all say hello and pass by me at the table and I gain weight a little, but I gain more life. They’re all so beautiful.”
Franza was ecstatic in agreement when Pete Wenninger of Post 1082 said that they would be back next year for his 101st.