Rose Pellicane Celebrates 100th Birthday
By Mario Toglia and Josephine Galgano Gore
The nation’s capital is the centerpiece of many important historic moments, and the centennial birthday milestone of Rose Codell Pellicane on July 13, 2008 ranks very high in personal significance to her family and friends. Despite the lack of marching bands or ringing bells, Rose deserves a big hand for just reaching the distinguished “100 year” Club. During a recent visit to her home in Bayville, situated on Long Island’s North Shore, Rose carefully recounted the highlights of her life. She chronicled her thoughts with a sharp and precise recollection, peeling off names, dates and events. It was astonishing to note the depth of her recall considering her life span ranged from the “horse and buggy” days clear through the highs and lows of a full life and interesting journey. Teddy Roosevelt was president on the day she was born in 1908 and it is ironic that after one hundred years, she lives a “stone’s throw” from his historic estate Sagamore Hill in Oyster Bay , NY.
Rose’s story starts July 13, 1908 in Washington DC when she entered the world as Rosina Carmela Codella, so tiny and fragile that an immediate baptism was organized by her concerned parents in the Immaculate Conception church in Washington. Yet, little Rose grew healthy and strong and people admired her striking features of green eyes and reddish brown hair. Her parents were Gaetano Codella and Angelina Vallario, who had immigrated from Calitri , Italy in 1905 aboard the Sicilian Prince. Her handsome fair-skinned father was only 22 and her young, beautiful dark-haired mother was 21 years of age. In 1906 the Codella family had welcomed their first child, a son Michael.
The young couple settled in Washington , DC with a helping hand from a Leonardo Capossela, who was related to her father through marriage. Leonardo had already established himself in the DC area with a comfortable residence and business enterprise selling produce in a local market. Leonardo helped Rose’s parents set up a stall to sell produce in the Eastern Market as well. Eventually in 1913, the family moved into their own home, a Federal-style brick semi-detached townhouse, at 516 11th Street SE. Her mother, Angelina, who was reared as the oldest in a family of ten children in Calitri, was quite prepared to take on the responsibility for a growing family and provide a good home. Over the years, her siblings immigrated to America and she remained particularly close to one sister, Mary Vallario Mazzucco, who lived just a few doors down the street at 520 11th Street SE. Rose attended Cranch Grammar School as well as a Saturday enrichment program at the Montessori School from the age of 6 to 10 years. She also went to Eastern High School . In the context of the times, local youths and troublemakers did not feel Italian immigrants deserved to be welcomed into their neighborhood. It was common for Rose and her brother, Michael, to be subjected to taunts and name calling as they walked to school or participated in local activities. Little did the hecklers know that many of the historic monuments and the Capitol building had been built by the hands of Italian sculptors and stone masons.
Rose recalls growing up in a loving close family where music and singing were part of the fun every Sunday at her home. Invited guests would gather together to harmonize the popular songs of the day. Many of the group members were blessed with exceptional singing voices. The men enjoyed card games and the women shared local gossip or news from Calitri. At around 6 PM, her mother would serve good wine and a typical pasta dish with an oil, garlic and capers sauce or veal with peppers. Just as most Calitrani households served a set food menu every day of the week, Rose confirmed that her mother followed the practice as well. For instance, if it was Monday, she served minestra, Tuesday’s dinner was marinara sauce with fried eggplant etc., but Sunday’s main afternoon meal was always the standard dish of macaroni with meatballs and sauce.
In the spirit of compassion, her social-minded father would invite friends to the house and entertain them by reading Italian books borrowed from the Library of Congress. Many of the immigrants came to America without the benefit of an education. They couldn’t read as schooling was not compulsory in Southern Italy at that time. Her father loved to read and felt reading was important to help others improve their lives.
Around this period, Rose’s father was stricken with cancer and was invited by his brother, James Codell, to recuperate at his Kentucky home. James was the prominent owner and manager of a road construction business based in Kentucky James had already shortened his family name from “Codella” to “Codell” because, in the course of doing business, he noticed more work appeared to come his way when there was no vowel at the end of his name. Rose’s father decided to follow suit and asked his children to sign off everything with the new shorter version of their family name.
Rose’s world changed dramatically with the untimely death of her father from malignant carcinoma at the age of thirty-five. After seven years of widowhood, Angelina married John Candatore, a gentleman from New Jersey. John moved into the house and took on the role of husband and father in his new family. He was a professional painter by trade and was employed by the federal government to work on special projects in the nation’s Capitol Building. He catered to the needs of the First Ladies of the land while on staff at the White House. Bess Truman was his favorite. Rose’s brother, Michael, traveled to Kentucky to work with his Uncle Jim Codell, who taught him the road construction business. After several years, Michael eventually opened his own enterprise and married Ann Nave, of Winchester , Kentucky.
While attending a social bridge party at a fraternity house in Georgetown, Rose met her future husband, Anthony Francis Pellicane. He was a medical student residing there and they met quite by chance while she was making a phone call in the hallway. Impressed with her beauty, he struck up a conversation. After dating a year, they were married at Washington DC’s Holy Rosary Church on November 10, 1935 and honeymooned in New York City. Anthony, the youngest of six children, was born and raised in the Bushwick section of Brooklyn. After graduation from Georgetown Medical School, he and Rose returned to Brooklyn and established his practice in general medicine. As his practice and family grew, they moved to “Doctor’s Row” on Bushwick Avenue. They would live there for the rest of their married life.
In 1947, they purchased a home in Bayville, Long Island. The home was built for a sea captain at the turn of the 20th century and is beautifully situated facing Mill Neck Creek. Their summer home provided a welcome respite for the entire Pellicane clan who visited on weekends for family gatherings. Rose’s mother Angelina died in 1974. Her stepfather remained in their Washington home for a year before moving to Brooklyn to live with Rose. When John died in 1977, she had his body returned to D.C. where he is entombed beside her mother. Rose’s husband, Anthony Pellicane died on January 4, 1975 at the age of sixty-six of heart failure. He is interred at Brooklyn’s St. John’s Cemetery alongside his parents and baby son, Anthony, who would have been the family’s youngest child.
Rose’s life span covered major wars, a world wide depression, the advent of Internet technology and the introduction of many modern conveniences. She viewed many historic parades and celebrations as she lived in close proximity to the Capitol and White House. In Bushwick she socialized with prominent people and politicians. The world has journeyed far since her birth and she marvels at the changes: from victrola to phonograph to CD player, from aeroplane to jet liner, from the silent movies to cinemascopic talkies in color. Through modern technology she has witnessed the landing of man on the moon and has seen videos of the Titanic’s remains at the bottom of the sea.
Today, Rose is quite comfortable in managing her everyday life with the assistance of an aide and is regularly visited by her three children: Dr. Charles Pellicane, a dentist from Douglaston Manor, NY, Mary Angela Susnjara, a Manhattan resident, and Rosanne Pellicane of Sea Cliff, NY. Rose’s extended family includes five grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren . Rose credits her long life to good genes, a positive attitude, the joy of family, and a strong will to live, as well as healthy eating habits which - she adds with a knowing smile - “means mostly homemade Italian cooking.”