109-year-old celebrates with the birthday parade of a lifetime

LITTLE EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Today's birthday celebration for Mary Ruggeri Leonardi was quite unlike the 108 before it.

"I don't believe this is happening," she said. "It's like a dream."

She was born on July 27, 1911. A caravan of cars drove by to wish her a happy birthday today at Seacrest Village assisted living facility.

In order for her to think of another time with such circumstances as the COVID-19 pandemic, she'd have to think back a century.

She was 7-years-old when the 1918 H1N1 pandemic, also known as the Spanish Flu, ravaged the world. By this age, she had already lost her sister, brother, and father to conditions like meningitis.

While she doesn't remember anyone in her family getting sick from H1N1, she does remember the economic starvation brought on by the Great Depression.

"There was not much to be had," she said.


Leonardi's is a story of survival, playing witness to major world events over nearly eleven decades. She was one of the first women to vote in the United States and still votes to this day.

She would move from South Philly to South Jersey, eventually having three children, five grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.
Her youngest child, Rosemary Hirsekorn, 71, works by her side at Seacrest Village.

Hirsekorn applied to become an activities assistant when her mother fell ill in February 2020. After several days on a ventilator, Leonardi bounced back.

"I felt like the end was coming, but it didn't," Leonardi said. "I guess nobody wants me yet!"


However, many friends, family, and neighbors did want to drive by and wish her a happy birthday. Even the mayor of Little Egg Harbor Township, Barbara Jo Crea, issued a proclamation in her honor.

Now, July 26, 2020 is officially Mary R. Leonardi Day.

Leonardi loves Mummers bands, jazz music, and Italian food. And her secret to living a long life? "Keep clean, stay healthy, keep out of trouble, and be nice to your neighbors!"

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