Remembering CT centenarians who died after coronavirus
Ask her son about Rose Ramadei, and one of the first things he calls her is a fighter.
“She was a terrific woman. It wasn’t the easy way to get to 103,” Richard Ramadei said. “One thing I remember very distinctly, she had an aneurysm in her gut two months after a triple bypass” when she was in her 80s. “They pulled out the anesthesia; her breathing was labored. We said, ‘Jeez, Ma, we thought we lost you.’ ‘Never give up,’ she said.’”
There was the time in her 70s that she slipped off a ladder while putting up Christmas decorations and hurt her ankle. She stumbled on uneven paving and broke her wrist. There was gall bladder trouble. An arterial issue.
“Right up until the day she died, she was sharp as a tack,” Richard Ramadei said. “Her body was frail, but she knew where she was.”
Rose Vanacore Ramadei was born in New Haven before the United States entered World War I. She died in Wallingford on May 21, one of at least four women in Connecticut who were older than 100 years old when she died with the novel coronavirus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Born into or on the cusp of another pandemic, the four saw wars, a depression, all manner of social upheaval. They fought all the way, raised families and built communities.
Besides Ramadei, there was Augusta Apter of Hartford and West Hartford, 104, who taught the blind; Rita Greene, 101, of Rocky Hill, a passionate seamstress; Phyllis Antonetz of Fairfield, 103, who retired from a career in education and found a way to keep teaching.
“Education was very important to her,” Antonetz’s daughter Alexa Mullady said. “That was something she passed on to my sisters and me. She was constantly learning and reading, bettering herself.”
More than 4,200 people have died of or with the virus in Connecticut since the pandemic definitively reached the state in March. Health experts don’t know how many were older than 100, but those older than 80 have borne the worst of it, stricken with the disease more often than other age groups and making up more than half the state’s death toll.
Families have told their stories and other tales, too. There was the strange coincidence of New Yorker Philip Kahn, who died on April 17, 100 years after his twin brother, Samuel, died of the great flu.
There is also East Haven’s Pauline Romano, who not only survived the pandemic a century ago, but recovered from COVID-19 in May.
They all fought.
“I don’t know whether it was lifestyle, diet,” Mullady said about her mother’s longevity. “She had a very strong faith. Up until the end, she was still getting Communion at the convalescent home. She had a very strong faith in God. I don’t know if that had anything to do with it.”
She said that Antonetz’s grandchildren and four great-grandchildren visited often.
“Maybe that had something to do with it,” Mullady said. “She surrounded herself with her family.”
So did Greene, whose death notice said they’d tell her she had “cooked for an army.” Formerly of New Jersey, Greene knitted items for her family and “pleasured in making matching outfits for her daughters for the holidays when they were young.”
Apter had a braille typewriter and used it to teach blind high school and college students, her death notice said. She was a puppeteer for the Greater Hartford Association for Retarded Citizens, a docent at the Wadsworth Atheneum, a library volunteer and a regular at a mahjong game.
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This pretty lady is my 104 year old Bubby. Last night she passed away due to a weeklong battle with Covid-19. While my family and I are saddened she’s gone, we’re more upset we couldn’t be there with her. She lived the most colorful life and was brilliant. Though she didn’t quite have all her marbles at the end, she would still call me out on my crap and tell me that “I’m full of it” while laughing at me. And that will always be my favorite memory of her. Cheers to you Bubs, you had such a great run and you’ll be missed, dearly. ❤️ #covidsucks
“Though she didn’t quite have all her marbles at the end, she would still call me out on my crap and tell me that ‘I’m full of it’ while laughing at me,” her granddaughter Melissa Apter posted on Instagram on May 30, soon after Augusta Apter died from what her granddaughter said was a weeklong battle with COVID-19. “That will always be my favorite memory of her.”
Mullady said her mother liked to talk to the grandchildren about her life as a youngster.
Antonetz would tell her kids, too, but Mullady said she thinks people will relate when she says the kids didn’t always feel like listening. But, she said, Antonetz took a genealogy course at the senior center in Fairfield and wrote her own memoirs.
“So we have some stories from her childhood from that,” Mullady said, and she said she enjoyed seeing the Manhattan she remembers from her own childhood, events like the San Gennaro festival, through her mother’s stories.
Antonetz attended NYU, then went to work, then brought up her children. All the while, Mullady said, she was taking classes, and she ultimately earned her master’s degree from Adelphi University and taught at several elementary schools on Long Island. When she retired and moved to Fairfield, she became an aide at St. Thomas Aquinas school.
Rose Ramadei, her son said, was a stay-at-home mom until the last of her five children left the house, then went to work at Lerner’s Shops in New Haven.
She’d grown up in New Haven and rode out the Great Depression with a resourceful family, her son said.
“Her grandparents made everything,” Richard Ramadei said. “Her grandfather made shoes. Her grandmother sewed. They were very self-reliant. There was no Social Security then. They got along good.”
Family seemed central to the centenarians. Whether that was a product of the age in which they grew up, or whether that played a part in the age they attained, there’s no way to say.
“A lot of times we take for granted the family we have. That’s one thing my mom never did,” Mullady said. “It’s something she passed on to her family, to make sure we’re all still in contact with each other.”