SUN CITY CENTER: Still going strong at 108

Published on: September 13, 2018

Oldest Sun City Center resident going strong at 108

1910 – 2018 and beyond

By STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON

STEPHEN FLANAGAN JACKSON PHOTO
Mary Bessignano turns 108 today, Sept. 13, and is looking forward to her favorite meal of spaghetti from the chef at Belvedere Commons in Sun City Center.

As perky and bubbly as a freshly-poured glass of champagne, Mary Bessignano gracefully anticipates the next milestone in her life: Her 108th birthday on Sept. 13, 2018. Reportedly and unofficially, Mary B. is the oldest resident of Sun City Center.

Certainly Mary B. has had her share of birthdays and hopes to have more. Each one is special, and she has a pretty good recollection of most of them. Her memory and her bill of health are crystal clear as are her bright brown eyes.

“I am blessed,” acknowledges Mary B., “…that I can communicate well with others and know what’s going on in my little world and the world beyond.

“I realize and appreciate that this is my blessing from God.”

Mary B. credits faith in God as a key to her longevity. Her deep and abiding faith is not merely a theological attachment to her Catholic religion but a cultural and spiritual one that Mary B. exemplifies and exudes every second, every breath of her life. Her compact “studio apartment” at Belvedere Commons in Sun City Center has everything she needs: Kitchenette, private bathroom and combination living room-bedroom. Her meals are brought to her. “I can pretty much take care of myself, dressing, heating up my meals in the microwave after they bring them to me during the day.

“I like to socialize in the common room down the hall from time to time and, of course, I enjoy visits here in my apartment from my son, Don, and anyone else.”

Mary B. likes to spend the day sitting in her comfortable chair, reading, and sometimes watching television, with her favorite EWTN (Eternal Word Television Network), and occasionally as many as three Masses per day. Her Italian heritage and culture is reflected in the many small religious icons in her apartment as well as a color photo of the current Pope, an old-fashioned tintype of her mother, and a color photo of her and her late husband Dominic.

“My favorite food is spaghetti, and I know the cook here will have that prepared for me in a delicious way on my birthday,” she said with glee.

“We lived in Logansport, Ind., and my husband Dominic worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad,” said Mary B., telling how she and her son and his wife decided to move to Sun City Center in 2006 after her husband died. All three lived together for awhile. Mary B. then moved into Belvedere in 2009 where she has lived since.

On this day as her 108th year on earth approaches, Mary B. looks like she could take on the world. Dressed impeccably in a bright pink blouse, linen-white pedal pushers with golden house shoes, a diamond pendant on a gold chain around her delicate neck and two gold rings on her hands, she said she enjoys dressing up whether she is “going out” or just spending time inside. She recalls that on the occasion of her 100th birthday her son Don took her to Tampa where she picked out some special clothes for a trip and celebration up in her hometown. Over 175 people showed up when she and Don arrived at the birthday bash where she was born and raised in Indiana.

“I have good memories,” said Mary B., the eldest of seven children, all born and raised in Logansport, and all deceased now except for her. She remembers fondly working in her later years as a volunteer in a hospital and a nursing home while living in Logansport.

“I spent time helping to feed and talk with the elderly people,” said Mary B.. “If you see an old lady, how can you not go up and give them a hug?” she said ironically, of her previous work and visits to the nursing home.

Now, years later, Mary B. is one of the residents in just such a home for assisted living. She is special among the many elderly residents, whose eyes yearn for even a brief moment of human contact.

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