At the party in honor of her 100th birthday, Josephine Labbruzzo prepares to blow out the candles on her cake.
At the party in honor of her 100th birthday, Josephine Labbruzzo prepares to blow out the candles on her cake.
Born and raised is a phrase often tossed around in Port Chester and no one has more claim to it than Josephine Labbruzzo. Born at United Hospital 100 years ago on June 20, Jo's never lived anywhere else.

"She's actually lived in the same house for 95 years," said her daughter Felicia.

Jo's parents bought 18 Fawcett St. when she was five. It was there that she grew up with her siblings, eventually lived with her husband and raised their three children and still resides with her cat, Pumpkin.

Jo went through the Port Chester schools but never graduated from high school. "When I was 16, I had to go to school," she said. "My mom said, 'If you find a job, you don't go back to school.'"

She started out in a shop in Port Chester that made vests and eventually ended up at the Ernest Simons Manufacturing Company. It was through her friend Angelina at the shirt factory that she met her husband, Lucas.

"She always cared for me and she said, 'I have to find you someone,'" Jo said. One day Angelina came into work and told Jo she could not say no. "'I found somebody for you and I made a date and you're going to come to Greenwich to meet him.' That's how I met my husband, through my good friend," Jo said.

They met in April, got engaged in September and were married in January. Lucas was 43, she was 37.

"In five years I had my three children," said Jo, referring to Felicia and her sister Angela and brother Angelo. "I always loved children when I was a kid, always wanted them."

Lucas and Jo were married for 50 years and he died shortly after their 50th wedding anniversary.

When the two got married, they did not have a lot of money. At their wedding reception in the veteran's hall on Pearl Street, they only had a tray of cookies. For their golden anniversary, however, her children made sure to make up for it. "We made sure we gave her a special, three-tiered cake," Felicia said.

Her family also threw her a massive birthday party on Sunday, June 22 to celebrate her century of life. About 85 friends and family showed up for the celebration in her honor.

Popsicles, plays and magicians

After her children grew up, Jo got a job babysitting and easily secured a job cooking, cleaning and looking after the children for a family on Kirby Lane in Rye for 75 cents an hour. "Then the whole lane found out what a jewel she was and they used to call months in advance to get her," Felicia said. At least five families there clamored for her attention.

To stay busy, she also took up dog-sitting and looked after the dog of Dr. Joel Blumberg from Greenwich for years.

"He loved to be at my house," Jo said about the dog. "The owner would let him out of the car. He'd jump on the porch and come right to my door."

Neighborhood children had a similar reaction to Jo.

"All the kids were in my yard and my house all the time," she said.

Famous for her grape Kool-Aid popsicles she
made in ice cube trays and hanging a sheet in the garage to act as the curtain for plays, the children from nearby often congregated in her home. Jo used to charge a nickel for all attendees of the children's plays. The next day she'd take the earnings, buy a treat for them and throw a small party. Sometimes they'd even have Jo's uncle and magician Luigi the Great come by and put on shows.

"She was the mother of the street," said Felicia, who will turn 61 in August.

"When there were class trips, they always wanted to be with my mom," Felicia added.

No driver's license for Jo

Having seen the village change in the past century, Jo misses all the stores she grew up with like Kaplan's Department Store, Woolworth's and Neisner's. She remembers going to the Embassy Theatre to see a show and to The Capitol Theatre, which has since been renovated and become a music venue again.

Jo's ties to Port Chester are strong and she has rarely ventured away from the place. She's never flown in an airplane and never learned how to drive.

Jo's sister got her license, but Jo herself had no interest in learning. "My father used to spoil us. He always drove us," she said.

In that regard, at least, Felicia had no interest following in her mother's footsteps. "The second I turned 16 I had my license in hand," she said. "I wasn't walking again."

Cookies before breakfast

A big baker, Jo's known for her traditional Italian cookies like taralli and anisette as well as fried Polish ribbon cookies. She'd often wake up at 5:30 a.m. to bake.

"She used to hand them to us in bed hot out of the oven," Felicia said.

They also make great gifts.

"For Christmas, I give them to all the neighbors," said Jo, who is so busy giving them away, "I don't have a single one."

According to Felicia, her mother also makes a stellar lasagna with tomato sauce made from scratch.

In order to get the ingredients to keep Felicia and her siblings fed, Jo had to go shopping three times a week when they were growing up, quite an endeavor for someone without a car.

"My mom would watch my kids. From Fawcett Street all the way downtown with my pushcart, because I never drove," Jo said.

Once she purchased her groceries, however, she did not want to lug them all the way home. Instead, she would leave them in the cart for her husband to pick up and push home after work. As she always went shopping early on, around 9 a.m., they would be sitting out for quite a while. They never, luckily, got stolen. "I don't think you could do it today," she said.

Highly capable, Jo also made lace, tatting lace collars for her daughters to wear on their blouses to school and crafting a handkerchief for each day of the week for them. On average, each handkerchief took about 10 hours to make.

Still living at home

Despite living alone, Jo said she is not lonely. She spends weekends at Felicia's home in White Plains and Angela stops by after dinner for a couple hours each weeknight.

"I watch TV. I do a little cooking for myself," said Jo, who enjoys watching soap operas and is a devoted follower of "Days of Our Lives." "I've been watching that for the past 40 years," Jo said.

"Forty? I'd say 60 years," Felicia chimed in.

Jo does, however, miss her neighbor and friend Carmella "Dolly" Giliotti, who died at the end of 2012.

"She used to come up to my house and we'd kill time," Jo said.

"They used to drink cordials on the porch, Sambuca and blackberry brandy," added Felicia. "They had a lot of fun. They really did."

It is only when talking about the people she has lost that Jo gets a little melancholy. In general, though, she is happy with her life, though surprised at how it has flown by.

"I can't believe it," she said. "I don't know where the 100 years went."