100 YEARS YOUNG: Elizabeth “Betty” Barengo Romano grew up in Plymouth, tending to chores on the family’s dairy farm, walking to school, getting married in 1937, and raising three children.
But many eyes, presidential ones included, are turning her way: Romano turns 100 on Thursday, and has received letters of recognition from presidents Obama, Clinton, Carter, and Bush the younger (with one expected soon from the elder), said Romano’s daughter, Jean Romano Kaplan.
Romano also has been given letters and gear from the four major Boston sports teams, which she still loves to watch, especially the Red Sox. She will be included in a book by Dr. Lynn Adler, founder of the National Centenarian Awareness Project.
“She’s an amazing woman,” said Kaplan, 67, the youngest of three children born to her mother and father, Mario J. Romano, a well-regarded Plymouth educator, coach, and athletic director. “She lived at home until she was 95 and was still driving.”
Romano now lives at the Life Care Center in Plymouth, Kaplan said, where a big birthday party is planned for Saturday, with more than 70 relatives and friends expected to attend.
Her hearing isn’t very good these days, her daughter said, which makes it difficult to speak with strangers. But at the nursing home, the soon-to-be centenarian regularly participates in programs, including gardening, from her wheelchair.
Throughout her life, she was very fond of gardening, Kaplan said, growing flowers at the Carver Street home she and her husband, Mario, built, where he cultivated a huge vegetable garden to help feed his family.
Mario Romano, who died in 1995, ran a dairy farm in Plymouth with his brother, a farm that still exists and is now home to West End Drilling, run by John Romano, one of Elizabeth’s grandchildren.
“That’s one of her keys to a long life,” said Kaplan, a Plymouth resident and retired nurse. “We always ate very fresh produce from our garden. And dandelions, she loved plucking dandelion greens to make a salad with a cut-up hard-boiled egg and oil and vinegar.”
Her mother drank “very rarely,” Kaplan said, but did “enjoy a cold beer with her spaghetti. And she made a very good sauce; she’d can her own tomatoes and did all her own cooking from fresh ingredients, never used artificial anything.”
She now eats lots of grapefruit and oranges her son, Charles, 75, sends from Florida. The third Romano sibling is Reeta Romano Horton, 72, of North Andover.
Some of her mother’s earliest memories, Kaplan said, include getting up at 4:30 a.m. to help milk cows and then “delivering milk with her grandfather by horse and wagon in North Plymouth. One winter day, going down Standish Avenue, the horse, Prince, slipped on the ice and everything tipped over. And she remembers walking to and from Oak Street School, which is still a school, about three miles each way.”
Romano met her future husband at a weekly Cordage Co. dance in Plymouth, a meeting that was more or less arranged. The Barengos and Romanos knew one another and indicated to each they had children who might be suitable for each other.
Mario Romano was an athlete at Boston College, where his future wife would go to see him play football – in her own car.
“That was pretty rare,” Kaplan laughed. “My dad was lucky to latch onto someone with her own car.”
Kaplan said her mother even in her elderly years would haul a wheelbarrow around her garden, go up ladders, and “do any work a man would do.’’
For her birthday party Saturday, Romano plans to have her hair done and then welcome as many of her seven grandchildren, 10 great-grandchildren, and dozens of nieces and nephews as may attend.
“She always was an amazing woman,” Kaplan said. “And she still is.”
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