Barbara Sanfilippo shared a recent story about her father in law pulling a shopping cart around the aisles of the nearby Walmart.
“People see him and they can’t believe he’s 100,” she said on Friday.
Michael Sanfilippo’s actual birthday is Sunday. That’s the day he’ll officially be a centenarian.
For the past three years, he’s lived at the Manteca home of Barbara and Charles, or Chuck, Sanfilippo.
“Dad loves watching TV,” Chuck said. “He understands what’s happening in politics today – don’t ask for his opinion.”
Michael Sanfilippo was born on Jan. 19, 1920 in Quincy, Mass. – a place of historic references given that John Adams and John Quincy Adams, both U.S. Presidents, along with founding father John Hancock were all born there.
From Woodrow Wilson through Donald Trump, Sanfilippo has lived through 18 U.S. Presidents and historic events such as the Great Depression, Pearl Harbor, World War II, the Korean War, Cuban Missile Crisis, JFK Assassination, Man Landing on the Moon, Watergate, and Sept. 11, 2001.
He recalled seeing Franklin D. Roosevelt in his presidential motorcade while growing up in Quincy and Gen. Douglas McArthur, following the Seventh Fleet from Australia to just outside the Philippines during his days as a patternmaker for the U.S. Navy during WWII.
When the U.S. declared war on Japan to enter the WWII, Sanfilippo had just moved west. He was working as a cement contractor with his father in Sacramento and was drafted at the age of 22 into the Army.
“When the war came, there was no cement,” Sanfilippo recalled.
But it was his knowledge of ship repairing from his younger years in Four River, Mass. that got him plucked by the Navy.
As a patternmaker, he made parts for battle-worn ships in the south Pacific theater of WWII. “We worked on a destroyer – on the first day out, it got sunk,” he said.
He was discharged on Dec. 25, 1945 to Camp Shoemaker in Alameda County, and had to figure out a ride back to Sacramento – a woman delivering goods offered him a ride to Stockton, where he hopped a bus from there to Sacramento.
Sanfilippo was one day shy of four years out of the military when he was pulled from civilian life to the Korean War. “We had two kids back then and one on the way,” he said.
He spent about a year stationed in Norfolk, VA before coming home for good.
His days at the independent cement contractor – his business was Chas Sanfilippo & Sons – got squeezed out by the various workers union. Sanfilippo became part of concrete finishers union.
He was married for over 50 years to his wife, Jennie, who passed away about 30 years ago.
They had six children – Michael Jr., Richard, Joseph, Charles, Phillip and Phyllis (Charles and Phillip are only surviving ones right now) – along with five grandchildren and 10, with one on the way, great grandchildren.
Sanfilippo purchased 25 acres of farm land just east of Visalia in Woodlake. They grew lemons and navel oranges on that ranch.
“I still remember dad pulling sprinklers in the morning (on the orchards) and then driving anywhere between Fresno and Placerville for concrete job. He would be back later that day to pull out the sprinklers again,” Charles said.
Michael Sanfilippo is still a sports fan to this day.
On Sunday, he’ll be pulling for the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers at Levi Stadium.
“He used to go on our family trips to watch the Super Bowl in Reno,” Charles said.
His father grew up just outside of Boston and would ride the subway to Fenway Park. Price for bleacher seats back then was 50 cents.
“We once had the best seats in the house (along the third base line) that cost $1.85 each,” Michael Sanfilippo said. “I think there were gangsters sitting in front of us because they were pulling (wads of) cash out of their pockets.”
He witnessed the final days of Babe Ruth as a player/manager for the Boston Braves. “He was playing right field and had a ball hit his way that went by for an error. He made that up by hitting (three) home runs,” Sanfilippo said.
He remembers watching TV in its infancy.
“They had fights three times a week in the heavyweights,” said Sanfilippo said, referring to boxing.
His favorite fighter was “The Brown Bomber” Joe Louis. He also enjoyed watching Rocky Marciano. “He was undefeated when he retired,” Sanfilippo said.
He watches fights today – UFC, in this case – and is quick to say, “that’s not fighting.”
Added his son, Charles: “I don’t think he doesn’t understand the part (of UFC) with the kicking and mixed martial arts.”