Sterling Heights woman celebrates 100th birthday

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published November 29, 2017

 Mary Licavoli, of Sterling Heights, turns 100 years old Nov. 29.

Mary Licavoli, of Sterling Heights, turns 100 years old Nov. 29.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske

MACOMB COUNTY — “You earn your own future, so that’s what we did.”

That’s what centenarian Mary Licavoli said she would tell younger generations looking for advice.

“We built ourselves up with our own strength. We weren’t afraid to work, so we went to any job that paid,” said Licavoli, of Sterling Heights, who celebrates her 100th birthday Nov. 29. “We weren’t lazy at all. We all worked nights; we didn’t hardly see my mother because we all worked different hours.”

Licavoli was born in Detroit in 1917, the youngest of five children of Italian immigrants. Her father died shortly after she was born, so her family never had a lot of money, she said.

“I cried a lot because I wanted everything I saw that other kids had, and we couldn’t afford it,” she said. “I was known as a crybaby.”

She had two sisters and two brothers as well, but one of her brothers was killed in an accident with a horse when he was very young. The siblings and their cousins all attended St. Mary’s Catholic School in what is now Greektown; Licavoli said the parish was “very good to all the poor people.”

She can still recite the entire Gettysburg Address, which was required memorization for graduation.

Over the course of her lifetime, Licavoli said that she held many different jobs, the first at an egg factory, where she and her sisters had to lie about their relation to get a job since, during the Great Depression, she said many businesses would not hire siblings in order to try to spread the jobs around. She said that when she and her sisters applied for the job of candling eggs — holding a candle up to the egg to see if it was good or not — they told the boss that one of them was a cousin. 

“We kept bringing our pay home, and eventually we saved money to buy a little house, and then my mother got us out of the egg factory,” she said.

Later on, she said that she and her sisters worked at U.S. Rubber, where they helped build tires for airplanes being used for the war effort. 

“We wanted to get hired, and the woman at U.S. Rubber where they built the tires, she would look at me ... she said, ‘You’re too frail for the job.’ The next day, I come back again and ask her again. She said, ‘All right, let’s try you out,’ but it was the hardest job I ever had in my life,” she said. “We worked because the pay was very good. It wasn’t easy ... (but) the work was so important to us because the money was so good.” 

She never married, but instead lived with her older sister, Angie. The pair first saved up to build their “dream house” in Harper Woods, where they lived for nearly 25 years, then moved to St. Clair Shores, where they lived in a waterfront home for another two decades. The sisters lived for a time in Clinton Township, and then settled in a senior living facility in Sterling Heights. 

Relatives said longevity runs in the family. Licavoli’s mother lived to be 98, as did her sister, Angie. Her sister Grace was nearly 98 when she died, as well.

“We never said, ‘This is mine. This is yours,’” she said of a lifetime living with her older sister, Angie. “We got along because we saved to build our future. It was all hard-earned money that we got. Nobody ever left us a legacy.”

Licavoli’s sister Grace married and had children; Licavoli treated her nephews and niece like they were her own children.

“My aunt Mary and her sister Angie were like mothers to us. They did a lot for us when we were growing up,” said Licavoli’s nephew, Jack Lucido. “For a long time, we always joked that we had three mothers.”

After putting herself through business school at night, Licavoli got a job as a secretary for the Chrysler Corp., where she worked for 30 years. 

“I took typing up and I was a fast typist,” she said. “I was very good at that; I even taught a boy how to type. 

“He used to come over and watch me type, and he was fascinated with that. He said, ‘Mary, teach me how to type.’ I started teaching him how to type ... (and when) he was a young man he was in service. As they were going overseas, (someone) said, ‘Does anyone here know how to type?’ The fella said, ‘Yes, sir.’ 

“That kept him from going to Korea, so I saved his life.”

Later in life, she said that she enjoyed traveling with her sister and their friends, but a 1969 trip to Mexico ended those travels. The plane crashed. She and her sister were badly injured and had to spend months recovering in Mexico. 

“They were there a long time, several months,” Lucido said. “She lost her regular job because she was gone for so long. They did take her back (at Chrysler), and she worked for a couple more years and then she retired.”

Licavoli will celebrate her 100th birthday with 100 guests at a party at the senior living facility where she lives in Sterling Heights. 

“That’s how my life went by: by pleasing everybody, by having fun,” she said.