Little Neck woman celebrates a century

Mother and daughter, Maria Regina Lucarelli and Chiara Ceglian.
THE COURIER/Photo by Liam La Guerre

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Woodrow Wilson was president, Babe Ruth played his first professional game and the world’s first transcontinental telephone line was established, the year Maria Regina Lucarelli was born.

Lucarelli, a resident of Brandywine Senior Living at the Savoy in Little Neck, will turn 100 years old on Sunday, April 13, and she will have a birthday party at the senior home to celebrate her experiences during the last century.

To reach the century mark, Lucarelli didn’t have to rely on a fountain of youth or a special anti-aging potion. Her advice to younger people is to just take it easy.

“You let each day go with whatever happens,” she said. “Go with the flow.”

Lucarelli’s life has been a wild ride through some of history’s darkest moments, including World Wars I and II and the Great Depression, as she struggled to achieve the “American Dream.”

Lucarelli was born in Toritto, Italy, in 1914. As a child, she traveled with her parents to America, where she completed junior high school and learned English. Eventually, she moved back to Italy to settle down and help her family during the Great Depression.

In 1947, she married Filippo Lucarelli, a conductor and musician, and the pair had two daughters in Italy. In 1953, when the family decided to board a ship to move to America permanently, the couple learned at the last minute that Filippo’s papers weren’t in order. She went alone and he remained in Italy with the children.

Initially, the problem with Filippo’s papers should have taken a few weeks to fix, but ended up splitting the family up for about seven months, becoming the most devastating period of Lucarelli’s life.

“That was the biggest obstacle I think my mother and father had to face,” said Lucarelli’s daughter, Chiara Ceglian. “I just can’t imagine the heartache that everyone felt at that time.”

Photo courtesy Chiara Ceglian 

After the family was reunited, they lived in a small apartment near Gramercy Park in Manhattan, where the rent was a bargain at $50 a month.

In America, Lucarelli used her skills as a seamstress to become a fashion designer working for department stores, such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.

She also mended clothes for private clients, “saving every penny” she earned, Ceglian said. After Lucarelli gave birth to her final daughter, the family moved to a house in Long Island with a relative. Then Lucarelli used her savings to buy her own house in Long Island, where she remained until she retired.

Her daughters are hosting her century birthday party, but cake and drinks aren’t on Lucarelli’s mind these days.

“I made it through the bad,” said Lucarelli, who is a great-grandmother of two. “I’m happy to be alive.”