Clara Gugino Lucca, 102, died Tuesday (Oct. 21, 1997), eight days after celebrating a national holiday she helped create.
A tiny woman with immense energy and heart, Mrs. Lucca kept the records and organized the ceaseless efforts of her husband, the late Mariano Lucca, to put Columbus Day on the calendar.
She and her husband turned their Seventh Street home into a Columbus and Queen Isabella Museum and the street itself into Columbus Parkway. She managed a series of Columbus Day banquet and awards programs that always featured the Luccas dancing to their favorite anniversary tune -- "Your Cheating Heart."
Mrs. Lucca celebrated her 102nd birthday Sept. 12 at her Manhattan Health and Rehabilitation Center home and then attended a party in her honor with 40 of her grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren, and then a few days later went on an outing to Casino Niagara.
This year, she continued an unbroken string of voting that went back 78 years, to the passage of women's suffrage.
"She and Dad had quite a lifetime, in the presence of many of our presidents and statesmen, as well as foreign kings and queens, popes, and many members of royalty," said their only son, Fran Lucca, a television documentary producer.
Born in 1895 in Buffalo, she attended Hutchinson High School and Chown Business School, becoming a secretary skilled at shorthand and able to type 92 words a minute.
One of her first jobs was at Buffalo's famed Larkin Co., where she was hired to address 2,100 envelopes a day, six days a week, for $5 a week, most of which she gave her parents. She was so small that she passed for a child and paid only a 3-cent fare on the trolleys instead of the normal nickel.
She became a clerk for a grocery wholesaler, where she met and was courted by Mariano, son of a saloonkeeper. When she became a secretary at American Brass, Mariano got a job there, too. When she became a secretary at the state Labor Department, he got a job there as a workers' compensation investigator.
She eventually gave in to Mariano, after a seven-year courtship, and they were married for 70 years. She asked her mother what would be a greater sacrifice -- marriage or becoming a nun -- and her mother unhesitatingly answered, "Marriage."
"Sparky," as she was nicknamed by her husband, also served as secretary for the Paul Busti Democratic Club, secretary-treasurer of the Buffalo Dramatic Association, and co-organizer of All Nations Mardi Gras events staged by Mariano. She helped publish his weekly newspapers, the Warder and the Buffalo Beacon, and handled the paperwork for relief supplies sent to war-torn Poland and fire-ravaged Rimouski, Quebec, by the Lucca-organized Buffalo Famine Emergency Committee.
She helped organize political rallies and banquets during Lucca's campaigns for Congress in the 1950s and 1960s.
She contributed her secretarial skills to the long campaign to establish Columbus Day as a national holiday, from the first committee in 1963 to congressional passage of legislation in 1971.
Surviving in addition to her son are nine grandchildren, six stepgrandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, seven stepgreat-grandchildren; and five great-great grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 9 a.m. Saturday in Holy Angels Catholic Church, 348 Porter Ave.
Interment will be in Resurrection Chapel Mausoleum of Mount Olivet Cemetery, Town of Tonawanda.