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101-year-old Amherst woman shares secrets to longevity

Josephine C. Vizzi's childhood home on Myrtle Avenue in Buffalo was so cold in wintertime, ice would coat the thin frame windows.

It was the 1920s, before the comforts of central heating. Vizzi's mother would heat a brick over a fire, wrap it in a towel and place it in the bed she shared with her three sisters to warm it.

"We were four girls sleeping in one bed," she recalled. "Things were tough then."

Vizzi remembers food lines during the Great Depression and leaving the city to pick crops at rural farms with her family to make ends meet.

Those experiences fostered the thriftiness that has stayed with her all of her 101 years.

"I'm a saver," Vizzi said. "I don't throw anything away."

Born Josephine Stefano on June 6, 1916 – when Woodrow Wilson was president and a year before the United States entered World War I – she was the youngest of six children born to a barber father and stay-at-home mother.

"Years ago when you graduated grammar school you had to find a job," she said Tuesday in the Amherst home she now shares with her daughter. "It was the Depression. Everybody had to find a job. Very few people went to high school."

She met Joseph Vizzi in 1932 at the Lafayette Theater, across from the Lafayette Hotel downtown.

"A bunch of us girls used to go on a Sunday afternoon and we met a bunch of boys," she said. "So this one boy had an eye on me and picked me out. That was my husband."

He came from a family of grocers and brought her cakes and other sweets from the store. They married on July 4, 1936, and operated a grocery store on Hampshire Street on the West Side before buying the Jefferson Broadway Food Market on the East Side in 1953.

"We were working side by side," Vizzi said.

They offered credit to poorer customers who couldn't afford to pay for their groceries. And their three sons helped after school and on weekends until the store closed after a fire in 1968.

Then, she sold womenswear in the upscale "round room" of Sample department store on Hertel Avenue in North Buffalo, outfitting mostly wealthy women in the newest styles of the season.

"Doctors' wives used to come in and buy their clothes," she recalled.

When the store closed in the early 1990s, she retired at age 75.

"I didn't want to, but I had to," she said.

She stayed active playing bingo and poker with a group of friends she has since outlived – losses that had her feeling wistful at times during an interview Tuesday. Her husband died in 1976.

The family was planning to hold a low-key 101st birthday party at home Tuesday night. Last year, there was a festive bash for her 100th.

The centenarian takes great pride in her 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and five great-great grandchildren.

Asked for the secret to her longevity, she lists clean living, including no tobacco use, her Catholic faith, a positive outlook, a sense of humor and patience.

Her earliest memory from age 7 or 8 may also have something to do with it. She remembers getting sick drinking from a bottle of her family's homemade wine.

To this day, she's mostly abstained from alcohol.

That was a new story to her children, who thought they knew all there was to know about their mother.

"I've had a good life," Vizzi said. "I still have a good life."

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