By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — She has a smile that lights up a room and the twinkling blue eyes to match. Born in 1923, she shares her birth year with many other famous women, including the sassy actresses Estelle Getty and Jean Stapleton.
Her name is Carmen DiChiara, and last Thursday, September 14, she celebrated her 100th birthday. As the holder of the town’s Boston Post Cane Award for the past two years, she is officially the oldest citizen in North Reading, based on the award criteria.
It was such a special day that Carmen had not one but two birthday parties held in her honor. The first party was held in the early afternoon with town officials, family and close friends in attendance. Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto and Senior Center Director Kim Manzelli were on hand to deliver the official “Carmen DiChiara Day” proclamation that was voted unanimously by the Select Board. Ginny Mills represented the Boston Post Cane Award Committee.
And House Minority Leader Bradley J. Jones Jr. personally delivered a proclamation from the entire membership of the state House of Representatives to “Carmen DiChiara, a member of the Greatest Generation, in recognition of the joyous celebration of your 100th Birthday.” It was signed on her birthday by both Speaker of the House Ronald Mariano and Rep. Jones.
Throughout the party, Carmen received many bouquets of flowers and a 100th birthday balloon bouquet along with a steady stream of phone calls from her relatives nears and far.
Later that night, she was feted to a second party attended by many more relatives and friends who all enjoyed a dinner party featuring one of her favorite foods – Chinese takeout – at the home where she lives with her oldest son, Mike, and daughter-in-law, Diane, on Heritage Way. She did confide that Italian food remains her favorite, but Chinese was a close second. Cooking had always been one of her passions.
Born in the West End of Boston and raised in East Boston, Carmen was the only child of Michael and Frances Ruo. She was very close to her grandmother who took care of her while her mother worked, and she learned to cook from her grandmother. Her father died when she was 15, and she went to work for Liberty Chocolate, where her grandmother also worked.
When WWII began she started working in the Head Light Division of General Electric while waiting for her childhood sweetheart, Nicholas DiChiara, to return home from the war.
Her husband was one of 10 children and she became part of his large, close knit extended family. She and Nicholas raised three sons. She said when their first son was born she wanted to name him after her father, Michael, whom “I loved very much, and he agreed.” When their second child was also a boy she kept her promise and they named him after her husband; and their third child, who they named Ralph, also lives in North Reading with his wife Jo-Ann.
Michael recalled many years of Sunday dinners and holidays when the various families of cousins, aunts and uncles had to eat in shifts because there were so many of them visiting with extended family.
Widowed at a relatively young age in 1967, Carmen worked as an office manager at Zayre’s Department Store in the Wellington Plaza in Medford for 25 years. Upon her retirement she moved to North Reading to be with her sons. On Thursday she said she has lost track of how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren she has but she’s always happy to see them or receive calls from them.
Throughout her life Carmen has held onto a few core beliefs. About the past she believes: “We had less but we had more.” She maintains a strong faith in God, and she believes the world would be a better place if more women were in charge.
When Rep. Jones asked her what was the secret to her longevity, Carmen was quick to reply: “Try to think good things. There’s a God in Heaven, and we still need a woman to run the country!”