In nine large-font typed pages in a home-bound album, Vinnie Benedetto attempts to sum up her 101 years of life in a brief personal memoir she calls “My Life as I Remember it.”
Her life includes dropping out of school at the onset of the Great Depression, becoming a Navy airplane inspector during World War II, buying a home and raising a family in Mineola, volunteering in retirement and driving until age 99.
“I feel very fortunate that god has been very good to me, maybe because throughout the years I always helped others,” she said in a recent interview. “I feel very fortunate that I’m able to be with my family, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren.”
Born in the Bronx on 149th Street in January of 1914, Benedetto dropped out of high school at age 16 to work as a salesperson in the men’s department at a large retail store on 125th Street, where she earned $16 per week for 54-hour workweeks, she said.
“My father was a presser for lady’s garments,” she said, adding it was seasonal work. “Easter would come, they’d be very busy, make a lot of overtime and then it’d be slow and laid off for about three months – every holiday he’d work, make overtime, and what he made had to last for the slow season.”
“Therefore with six children, the income was not enough,” she said.
When the Second World War broke out, her brother Vincent was working at an airplane factory and asked her if she would be interested in an upcoming test to become a Navy inspector, Benedetto said. She passed the test with high marks.
“The Navy sent me to school to take a course in blueprinting in order to check out the mechanics’ work according to the blueprints,” she said in her memoir. “I was assigned to the wiring department. As the mechanic finished wiring parts to the wing of the plane, they would then call the Navy inspector to check it out. If it was according to blueprint, I would pass it…I was responsible once I put the Navy stamp on it.”
She spent some time with a group of inspectors, before she was assigned as the sole inspector for a plant on Wall Street, where she inspected the planes’ gauges. It was there that she learned her youngest brother, Frank, had died in an accident in June 1943 while stationed in California for the Army. He was 19.
“Two weeks later, his body was shipped to our apartment where the funeral was held,” Benedetto wrote. “In those days, no one could afford a funeral parlor, so you had the wake in your living room for three days.”
About 19 months later, her brother Louis, while serving in Okinawa where he carried stretchers, was shot and killed while wearing a Red Cross band on his arm.
“He was laid out in a closed coffin in the same apartment. My parents, along with all of us, were devastated,” she wrote. “We had him in our living room for three days…He was taken to church for a funeral mass, and buried in St. Raymond’s cemetery in the Bronx with Frank.”
But it was during the war while she worked at the plant that Benedetto met her future husband, Morris. She and Morris dated for a year before setting a date to get married, she said.
The two lived in Brooklyn briefly after they were married, before moving to the Bronx. But after several years, around 1960, Benedetto said, she and Morris began searching for a home, before settling on a modest-sized place on Sheridan Boulevard in Mineola.
“We bought one with a $2,000 down payment and a 30-year mortgage for a $17,500 house,” she wrote. “In 27 years, we paid it off.”
Benedetto, who still lives in the house, says she has many “beautiful” memories in it.
As Morris and she retired, they would take vacations together, and Benedetto joined the American Association for Retired People, for which she was voted the chairperson for community service.
She and the other members would knit or crochet lap robes to donate to nursing homes, and Benedetto would also spend her time volunteering at Winthrop.
“That’s 23 years of my life that I always remember and wish I could do more,” she said.
For many years, Benedetto maintained an active lifestyle. She said she drove to the supermarket until she turned 99 and did house work, like painting her house, until age 80 – “Well, maybe not 80, maybe 75.”
Last January, she celebrated her 100th birthday at a large party at the Jericho Terrace attended by 83 friends and family members.
“I was happy and amazed that my sons, Robert and Carl, along with my daughter-in-law…grandchildren…and grandson-in-law surprised me with such a beautiful party,” she said. “I experienced so much joy to think this was all for me.”
She concluded her memoir the same way she concluded her interview, by emphasizing just how lucky she feels.
The final page reads: “I must have done something right all my life for God to be letting me enjoy the present time.”