“There’s no secret,” Ida Genna Scaduto said the day before her 106th birthday, when her family and friends threw her a party at the Baldwin Senior Center and inevitably asked for the recipe for making it to 106.
“She always used to say, ‘Move it or you lose it,’” her daughter, Josephine Miller, recalled. “That was her famous saying. She’s not the type of person who would just sit around.”
Friends and family gathered at the Town of Hempstead center on Sept. 24 to sing “Happy Birthday” to Scaduto and share a lifetime of memories.
“She was cooking lasagna up to 100,” Miller, 76, said. Scaduto was known for her “fantastic” Italian cooking, including her Italian fig cookies that required three days’ worth of work. “Work never scared her,” Miller said.
Born Ida Scaturro in Brooklyn in 1913, she entered the world when airplanes were still new and the zipper had just been invented. Entertainment was silent movies or “talking pictures,” Woodrow Wilson had just become president, and people hand-washed their laundry on scrub boards and hung their clothes to dry in their backyards.
“Ida has had a full life,” Miller said. “Family has always been the centerpiece of her existence.”
Scaduto was married to Miller’s father, Gasper Genna, for 40 years. After he died, Scaduto later married Jimmy Scaduto when she was 75 years old. They were married for 15 years — he died when she was 90.
Scaduto grew up in a tight-knit Italian community in Bushwick, and she never strayed from her Sicilian roots. Her parents had emigrated from Memfi, Sicily, and instilled within her a strong work ethic.
At the age of 8 or 9, Scaduto remembered, she would watch as her mother draped a dozen pairs of men’s pants over her shoulders and sewed linings into them.
“Her mother’s stitches were so small it looked like a machine had done it,” Miller said. “Then they would walk to the factory, get paid for the labor, and walk back with another dozen pairs of pants.”
Like so many girls did at the time, Scaduto went to work full-time after eighth grade. She became a seamstress like her mother, Miller said to a room of dozens. So did her older sister. As her family prospered, her three younger siblings were able to graduate high school.
Scaduto specialized in working with a Merrill Machine and remembered when the unions approached her, asking her to join. She was one of the better paid employees, though, and was earning $2 more than what the unions were promising.
“Eventually, she did join the union [without taking a pay decrease] and recalls walking on a picket line for better working conditions,” Miller said of her mother.
In 1939, when Scaduto married Genna, they spent their honeymoon at the World’s Fair at Corona Park in Flushing, Queens. Five years later, they had Josephine. Scaduto then moved into her parents’ home and worked for her father in the family grocery store. She recalled her father buying a horse and wagon many years before to sell fruits and vegetables — a small beginning that led to a chain of supermarkets called Charles Scaturro and Sons.
“We’re thankful for her and that she’s come this far,” said Billie-Sue Scotto, coordinator of the Baldwin Senior Center.
The room lit up when Charles Monaco, Scaduto’s nephew, played the guitar and led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” at the celebration.
“How young are you now?” he sang. “You never get old, Aunt Ida. You still look the same the 60 years I’ve been here.”
The crowd also sang along to “Ida’s Song,” a piece written by Scaduto’s step-son Rob Del Gaudio.
“The elder years you magically foil, must be all the garlic and oil, oh, Ida you are something to see, you could pass for 73,” Del Gaudio’s lyrics read.
“God has given her many gifts, which she readily shares with all,” Miller said. “She is loved by many and respected by anyone who knows her. She is a role model, and I’m proud to say, she’s my mom.”