Mary Ruggieri of Cranston celebrated her 106th birthday with a party at Cedar Crest Nursing and Rehabilitation Center July 21. During the festivities, she said she knows the secret to longevity.
“You’ve got to eat good food to stay healthy so you can work hard,” said Mary. “You need to make sure you sleep well at night and get good rest.”
Her loved ones said Mary knows all about working hard and eating well, as she and her family formerly owned and operated Ruggieri & Sons Supermarket, which was located at the corner of Cranston Street and Gansett Avenue. In fact, they lived above the grocery store.
“When they owned the store, she was up early every morning and stayed there late in the day,” said her grandson, Richard Ruggieri, who attended the party. “She climbed 33 stairs to get to her house. She’s a very strong woman. She’ll tell you otherwise, but she’ll be here after the rest of us go. At 106, her hearing and eyesight are failing but she still has her memory.”
Two of Mary’s three sons, Joseph, 83, and Edward, 82, were able to spend their mother’s birthday with her. Her youngest son, Robert, 65, was not present, as he lives in Thailand.
Joseph said he enjoyed working as a meat cutter at the store. Most of all, he said he liked being with his family.
“We all worked together,” he said. “We used to love to do things in the store. We had top quality food at all times.”
Edward, who worked at the store as a delivery boy, said he is both thankful and impressed that his mother is doing well.
“Her health has started to fail a little bit, but other than that she’s had perfect health all these years,” he said.
Edward also said Mary journeyed to Rhode Island from Italy when she was 11. In 1925 she married Joseph Ruggeri.
“My father used to peddle vegetables on the road,” said Edward. “Then, he started the market.”
Aside from running the market, Mary also was a member of the Supreme Emblem Club of the United States, which is affiliated with the Elks Club. The club’s mission is dedicated to serving the needs of others.
“We’d raise money and give it to the poor,” Mary said. “I’ve been a member for 57 years and I’m a past president.”
Also, Mary said she enjoyed bowling. In fact, she played in the Manton Seniors of Johnston bowling league until she was 103.
“The last day I bowled, I bowled 125,” she said. “I just loved it. I could hardly stand anymore, but I’d still throw the ball down the alley.”
In addition to her three children, Mary also has five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. Many of them stopped by Cedar Crest to wish her a happy birthday and shared a slice of cake with her.
“It makes me very happy to see them here,” Mary said. “God bless them all.”
Amongst them were her great-grandchildren, Eddie, 10, and Katherine Ruggieri, 12. Both are students at Immaculate Conception Catholic Regional School in Cranston.
“I don’t know anyone else’s grandmother that has lived to 106,” said Eddie. “I tell people I know and they get really excited. They are amazed by it. Some say, ‘My grandmother lived to 100,’ and I say, ‘Well, did she live to 106?’ They don’t know what to say to that.”
When asked what her favorite part of the day was Katherine said, “Getting to spend time with my grandma.” She also said, “I don’t know how she’s made it so far, but I hope I can live that long, too.”
As Greg Gillis, the facility’s activities director, sang songs like “Somebody Stole My Gal” and “That’s Amore,” Lynda Sprague, the Director of Marketing and Public Relations, said Mary hasn’t lost her sense of humor.
“One of the funny things she was saying is that she is in better shape than her sons,” said Sprague.
Further, Sprague said the Cranston facility currently houses four people over the age of 100. Mary’s friend, Gemma Litterio, is one of them at 101.
“Mary lives across from me,” said Litterio. “I’ll be 102 on April 18.”
Tyrone Jackson, the assistant activities director, said Mary and Gemma spend time together every day. He was pleased to see them enjoying themselves at the party.
“It’s a very exciting event because the residents are my family,” he said. “If I go away they say, ‘where have you been?’ Mary takes care of herself and she walks every day. It’s great to have a conversation with her because, even though she’s 106, she has an incredible memory. She has charisma and a good sense of humor.”
But, Mary wasn’t the only birthday girl in the family. Anne Ruggieri, Mary’s daughter-in-law, celebrated her 80th birthday the same day.
Bashful about stealing Mary’s thunder, Anne did not want to make a fuss about her own birthday and said, “I think it’s great that Mary made it to 106 and is still in good health. Not too many people reach that age.”