Happy 100th birthday, Hazel!

May 17, 2007|by JANET HEIM

Life was different in 1907 when Hazel Petrarca was born. She was one of 13 children in a poor coal-mining family and quit school after seventh grade to help her mother raise her nine younger brothers.

And she wouldn't have it any other way.

"I loved taking care of my brothers," said Petrarca, who was raised in Gallitzin, Pa., 10 miles from Altoona.

Born on May 10, Hazel was the fourth child of Charles and Emma Conway, who were devout Catholics. They had three daughters and 10 sons and Hazel is the last survivor of the children.

Life wasn't easy. There was no running water in the house, which meant drawing buckets of water from the well.

Laundry was washed with a scrub board and wringer washer, then hung out on the line to dry. Bathing was done in a big metal tub.

Her favorite childhood memories include watching her brothers when her parents would have to go away for the weekend.


She and another sister were in charge and Hazel was responsible for the boys, while her sister handled the house. The boys loved it when Hazel would make fudge and taffy for them, even though she promised her mother she wouldn't.

Petrarca remembers going to the annual church picnic as a family. Each child was given 25 cents and could buy five items because everything was five cents apiece.

They could choose from a slice of watermelon, sandwich, a spoonful of peanut butter, candied apple and ice cream.

"My brother said we were brought up the hard way, but we were happy," Petrarca said.

Hazel met Albert Petrarca at local Saturday night dances. They dated for about two years and married in 1929, when Hazel was 22.

Albert Petrarca, who was Italian, taught Hazel to make homemade ravioli, gnocchi and spaghetti sauce. She said one of the first meals she prepared for him after their wedding was apple dumplings with milk, which her family considered a meal and she was proud to be serving her new husband.

He couldn't understand why she was serving dessert first and wanted to know where the dinner was. That was the last time Hazel prepared apple dumplings for dinner.

The couple had five children and were married until Albert's death in 1976 of black lung disease. He had worked in the coal mines when he was younger, then worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad until retirement.

Hazel worked as a switchboard operator for Bell Telephone and was a seamstress at the shirt factory in Gallitzin before she had children. Then she was an at-home mother and housewife.

Now there are seven grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and three great-grandchildren on the way.

Two of Hazel's three daughters moved here for jobs and Hazel followed 38 years ago so she could babysit her granddaughter. She moved to Summerland Manor five years ago, where she lives with two of her daughters.

"She's strong. She goes every place with us - Sam's, the mall, visiting," said her daughter, Autumn Swing.

Petrarca's 100th birthday was celebrated with family and friends at a party last week.

Hazel has no problems with her memory and remembers birthdays and anniversaries of family members and even her husband's Social Security number.

She reads the newspaper every morning, likes playing bingo at the development's community center once a week and occasionally goes to basket bingos where she watches up to six bingo cards at a time. Hazel crochets and personalizes blankets for new babies in the family by crocheting a border around them.

Petrarca also enjoys playing scratch-off lottery tickets. She won $43 from the scratch-off tickets she was given for her birthday.

Chocolates, flowers and money - including a Mason jar filled with 100 rolled up one-dollar bills from neighbors and a floral money tree from nephews and a niece - were some of the gifts Hazel received.

"She lives by the Golden Rule, to treat people well. Respect is Number One," Swing said of her mother.

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