View Mobile Site

Marking 101st Thanksgiving today

Oldest member of Sheet Workers International Union

Text Size: Small Large Medium
Marking 101st Thanksgiving today

Nick Samartino, front, is joined by, from left, great grandson Tommy Bruening Hekl, grandson Jason Hekl, daughter Rosemary Hekl, great-granddaughter Mason Hekl, daughter Janet Plummer, great-grandd...

Photo contributed/

POSTED November 23, 2011 11:46 p.m.

Nick Samartino has plenty to be thankful about.

He just celebrated his 101st birthday at the Commons at Union Ranch – an independent living, assisted living, and memory care community in Manteca – joined by friends, family, and his favorite drink.

According to his daughter, Rosemary Hekl, Gallo Wines donated four cases of the Carlo Rossi burgundy to Samartino to mark his special day on Nov. 13.

“For years, he drank a glass of the red (Carlo Rossi) wine every day,” she said on Wednesday. “I’m talking about from the gallon jugs.”

Rosemary and husband, Thomas Hekl, along with her sister, Janet Plummer, were among the immediate family attending Samartino’s birthday.

Three helium-filled Mylar balloons reading “1-0-1” marked the occasion.

Rosemary Hekl noted some variables that may have contributed to her father’s longevity.

“Of course, he had his glass of wine every day,” she said. “Dad always told us to ‘keep your mind occupied at all times.’

“He also reminded us that family is important.”

Nick Samartino, who has five children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, was born in Manhattan, NY, in 1910. He was the seventh of nine children.

He was a young boy when his folks moved the family – including his siblings, Dom, Jerry (Angelo), Flo, Katie, Jeff, John, Mary and Charlie – to the Bronx. They resided at 25 South Oak Drive.

Nick was 19 in 1929 during the Great Depression. Since jobs were scarce he and a friend developed an engine called the ‘gasifier.’

It was an engine that ran on kerosene.

They tried to get financial backing on their alternative-to-gasoline invention but to no avail.

Samartino then became a sheet metal worker. In fact, he’s still part of the Local Union 38 servicing several counties in New York.

“Dad is the oldest member of (the Sheet Metal Workers International) union,” Rosemary Hekl said.

Samartino’s work over the years included the heating system at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the Pentagon building in Washington, D.C.

He also operated a small candy store, selling chocolate kisses two for a penny. Today, the Burke Avenue building is still in the family and home to one of his granddaughters.

In 1943, Nick Samartino was drafted into the army during World War II. At the time, he was 33 and older than most of the new draftees.

During training, he met his future brother-in-law, Russell Romeo. He dated Russ’ sister, Elizabeth.

According to the family, the two were wedded only after Samartino completed his military duties in May 1945. They corresponded via mail throughout the war.

The couple settled in New York – Samartino saved up enough money to purchase a home in the suburbs – where they raised their family.

His wife passed away in 1982 from cancer. Samartino lived with family members and later retirement communities, from New York, to Grand Rapids, MI, to California, just to name a few.

“Dad loves gardening,” said daughter, Rosemary.

Over the years, he grew vegetables, from tomatoes to peppers and eggplant, to herbs including garlic.

“He wanted his own garden in California but it was too hot,” Hekl said.

She noted that Samartino can still get around physically. He manages to walk, bathe and change his own clothes, Hekl noted.

But his vision and hearing have been on the decline.

“He used to enjoy the audio books,” she said. “He would go through 10 per week.”

Meanwhile, folks at the Commons are amazed at Samartino’s longevity.

“A man that was born between 1909 through 1911 had an average life expectancy of 49.9 years,” said Chelsea Neal-Ricker, referencing the National Vital Statistics Report (Vol. 55, No. 6, Nov. 10, 2004).

“Nick has more than doubled that average.”

Commenting is not available.

Commenting not available.

Please wait ...