NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — At 100 years old, Lolly Grello is still experiencing firsts in life.
Grello, a longtime Narragansett resident who now resides at the Roberts Nursing Centre in North Kingstown, celebrated her first virtual birthday on May 20.
There was cake, balloons and a glass of a sparkling cider-looking drink which Grello raised as if to toast the occasion. And of course there was family – 44 members in nine states that showed up on Zoom to mark the milestone and sing “Happy Birthday” to her.
Grello, who daughter Pat Cerbo said is still mentally sharp, held up a sign so her family could see it: “Quarantine 100th Birthday Party – None of you are invited.”
Cerbo said her mom is not the oldest resident at the center – there are one or two who are as old or perhaps a year older, she said.
The new experience was the latest in a life filled with them – the daughter of Italian immigrants was married for 69 years to the late Anthony Grello, and together they raised three children – Pat, son Anthony and daughter Frances – in Cranston before moving to Narragansett about 40 years ago.
“She was the second-youngest, and one of eight children,” Pat Cerbo said. “They were hard workers and were for all their lives. They raised three children and now it’s grown to grandchildren and great-grandchildren all over the country.”
Grello now has seven grandchildren, 13 great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews spread all around the country.
Cerbo said her mom still keeps her busy, making her buy greeting cards for her to send out to various friends and family at different life milestones or special occasions. She still talks to her mother twice a day by phone.
“I talk to her by hone and then sometimes I go to the nursing home and she comes out on the patio, and I can see her like that,” Cerbo said.
Plans were always in the works to celebrate Grello’s 100th birthday, but they were canceled when COVID-19 struck and the nursing center was forced to bar visitors.
But the social worker at Roberts, Dori Alger, worked closely with Grello’s California grandson, Chris, to arrange a Zoom virtual birthday party.
But would Lolly embrace such a “high-tech” way of gathering?
It turns out she was already used to it, having become familiar with Zoom from playing Bingo on her recently-acquired Kindle – and she was all for it, Cerbo said.
The end result was a celebration involving 44 people from 9 states, across three time zones, on 19 cameras. Family that live in California, New York, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Florida, Connecticut and the Carolinas were among those to attend, including some nieces and nephews in their 60s and 70s.
She’s also earned lots of public attention over the last few weeks.
The Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging wished her a happy birthday on Twitter, and she was featured in a local Cranston newspaper.
And as the matriarch of the family and its cook, she was the subject of a Providence Journal article 10 years ago about her famous recipes. The recipes were reprinted recently to mark her birthday.
Her grandson Chris Cerbo, Pat’s son, posted about his grandmother on her actual birth date, May 21.
“Today is the day! Happy 100th birthday to Latterina Virginia Grello! It’s a rarity to be able to celebrate a 100th birthday and such a joy to celebrate the life of someone who has been making everyone’s lives around her better for a century,” he wrote. “For me that usually meant a place to visit with plenty of French toast for breakfast and a homemade pizza after that. For the kids it means bingo money. She still calls often to find out how the kids are doing, and still remembers every birthday, every milestone.”
Chris said he treasured a phone call the day before when he got to say, “Good night to 99, Gram. I’ll talk to you tomorrow at 100.”