Jodi King, who employed her sisters at her hair salon during the Depression, is still known for looking after people as she approaches her 103rd birthday today.
She picked out an orange layer cake for the celebration because it’s a favorite at GreenField Court, an assisted living campus in Lancaster.
As she put it to staff, “most people will like that.”
The routine that is part of this phase of her century-long life includes going to bed by 7 p.m., morning exercise, attending Catholic and Lutheran church services each week and looking after the resident canary.
She covers Mike’s cage with a cloth at night and lifts it off in the morning.
“She makes sure, before she goes to bed, that he’s tucked in,” said Lisa Scaglione, creative arts director at GreenField, part of the Niagara Lutheran Health System.
Sometimes King will tell Scaglione that living this long takes effort.
“It’s hard work being this old and taking care of myself,” she says.
King, who is legally blind and hard of hearing, could not be interviewed by phone. She was described by friends as a deeply religious, thoughtful person who joins in all the campus activities. She always asks about Scaglione’s 2-year-old granddaughter, Audriana. And when preschool children come to sing for Christmas, King takes a seat in the front row.
After her husband, Lawrence, died 12 years ago, she moved from her native Utica to Lancaster to be closer to her nephew Joe Bellucci.
He, his sister and a cousin from New Jersey will be among the family and friends on hand to share cake and presents at GreenField Court today.
“She’s kind of the ‘Mother Teresa’ of our lives,” Bellucci said. “We’ve all lost our parents. Jo’s outlived everyone in the family ... All of us cousins, nieces and nephews adopted Aunt Jo as our own mom.”
King’s mother died when she was about 10 and she looked after her three younger sisters until her father, a Sicilian immigrant and shoemaker, remarried. During high school, she made money cutting hair on weekends. Eventually she opened a hair salon called “The Sisters,” which she ran during the Depression and an eight-year engagement to her future husband.
They traveled the world after he joined the Army Finance Corps during World War II and became a colonel, working on President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff and at the Pentagon. After he retired, they moved back to Utica and he taught accounting at Colgate University. The couple, married for 67 years, also lived in Alaska and Paris, among other places.
“It was always exciting to see her whenever they came from, wherever they were,” said Bellucci. As he got to know his aunt better during her later years, she inspired him with her religious faith. “I’m sure her spirituality is one of the reasons she’s still hanging in there with us,” he said.
It is King’s kindness and cheer that impressed Scaglione. When people ask how she’s doing, her usual reply is, “With God’s help, I’m just fine.”
King will stop conversation to ask for an extra seat if she sees someone in need of one.
The back of a couch in her apartment is filled with the stuffed animals she chooses as prizes when she wins at bingo.
“We didn’t have toys when we were little. This is God’s way of giving me toys until I’m not here anymore,” she once said.
Scaglione plans to come into work for the birthday party. “Everybody loves Jodi,” she said.