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Best friends for nearly a century take a look back

Nicoletta was born in 1912 – the year, she will tell you, the Titanic sank.

Louise was born three years later.

Together, the two women have been friends for almost that long – ever since they were babies, in the era of Woodrow Wilson and Babe Ruth.

So, yes. We’re talking about a friendship that has lasted almost a century.

“Best friends,” said Nicoletta Sebastiano, 102, who lives in Clarence. “Best friends.”

Louise Spampata, 99, of Williamsville, puts it this way: “We grew up together.”

If Western New York gave out an award for enduring friendship, “Nicky” and Louise would surely be in the running for the prize.

The two women – known as Nicoletta D’Ugo and Louise Mary Riccione back then – were both born in Buffalo around the start of the First World War. Their families were friendly, having come from the same Abruzzo region of Italy, a little place called Furci.

“They were very close,” said Sebastiano, of the two families, on a recent evening when she sat near her best friend as they talked about their lives.

The pair played together as children and young girls. They didn’t attend the same schools or church, though. Sebastiano’s family moved when she was a baby to Williamsville, where she went through grade 12 in a public school and became valedictorian of her high school.

“I was a bookworm,” said Sebastiano, laughing. “I would stay up and study all night. Oil lamps.”

Spampata, who grew up on Schiller Street in Lovejoy, attended public school through the eighth grade in Buffalo, then started working as a young teen.

But the two women stayed close, no matter what.

Their friendship lasted through their marriages – Sebastiano at age 26 in 1938, Spampata in 1951 at age 36 – and the birth of Sebastiano’s four children, three of whom lived past infancy.

It lasted through their jobs – Sebastiano ran and taught at two business training schools, the Kensington Business Institute in Buffalo and Kelly’s in Niagara Falls, and Spampata worked at a number of places, including the department stores AM&A’s downtown, plus Berger’s and Sears. (She retired in her 80s.)

Their connection lasted through sad times, too, like the deaths of their husbands and friends.

Spampata’s husband, Vincent Spampata, a baker who co-owned Vin-Chet bakery, died in 1999.

Sebastiano’s husband, James Vincent Sebastiano, died in 1979.

It was at the start of her marriage in 1938 that Sebastiano had the idea to form a club that would be built on her deep friendship with Spampata. They called it the “Pandora Club.”

“Everybody was having clubs. So I said, ‘I’m going to start a club,’ ” recalled Sebastiano, who speaks or has studied four languages.

The club had 12 original members, many of them sisters, cousins or distant kinfolk. They paid dues – 25 cents a month, to start – and held monthly get-togethers in each other’s homes, where there would be big feasts, conversation, and companionship. Some women would crochet or knit.

“We just talked about happy things,” remembered Spampata. “We had a big meal at every meeting. A hot meal. You know what I mean? Spaghetti.”

“Everybody tried to outdo each other,” recalled Spampata, of the women’s cooking efforts.

The Pandora club members used some of their dues to do kind things, like sending flowers to loved ones in the hospital, or having Masses said for the soul of a deceased family member.

“We made sure the Pandoras had a Mass said,” Spampata recalled.

The club meetings were held in the evening, the women said, because everybody was so busy with work and family obligations.

“Well, we were busy,” said Spampata.

And about the club’s name?

“Pandoras are inquisitive, aren’t they?” Sebastiano asked, her eyes twinkling.

The club lasted for decades, petering out only with the deaths of most of the women involved. There is one other surviving member, the women said.

Over the years, the two women have done many things together, because of their friendship. They took swimming trips to Canadian beaches, in sporty 1930s-era swimsuits, taking along Sebastiano’s mother as a chaperone. They went out to dinner in nice Buffalo restaurants – even bringing their husbands on occasion. They even took vacations with their families in tow.

Through it all, they formed bonds that last to this day.

“We just enjoyed being together,” said Spampata.