By Carol Ann Benanti
Staten Island Advance
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Over the past 102 years, he’s witnessed profound changes in history that have transformed lives in countless ways: two pandemics, wars, and breakthroughs in the fields of science and medicine.
But Anthony Louis Aquaro is adamant about his life and his good fortune.
“My greatest blessing is wealth,” he said. “Not the monetary kind, but the wealth that comes with being blessed with a beautiful and loving family of children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and nieces and nephews.”
He’s the oldest living member of the FDNY in the five boroughs, having retired from Brooklyn’s Engine 69. To mark the feat, Aquaro was lauded at a commemorative ceremony on Sunday.
And as patriarch of his family, he’s the first to reach the status of super centenarian.
What’s more, Anthony and his wife Gloria, 99, were married 79 years on Feb. 8. So, they are believed be to be Staten Island’s longest married couple!
FETED BY THE FDNY DURING A CEREMONIAL EVENT
As a way to have his commemorative Fire Department recognition be all the more official, the FDNY and more than 200 family members, friends and elected officials gathered at Engine Company 168, EMS Station 23 on Sunday to pay tribute to the Rossville resident who held the title of Firefighter First Grade.
Fire Department veteran John Hodgens, chief of the department, officiated at the afternoon ceremony, where a number of other FDNY veterans from World War II, the Korean War, and the Viet Nam War, were in attendance.
“The whole family couldn’t believe the celebration. It was unbelievable,” said Anthony Aquaro, Jr. “The Rolling Thunder, the motorcycle crew, came to our house on the day of the celebration and escorted us to the firehouse. The Fire Department is his family, and they really turned out for him.”
The Aquaros are the parents of two, grandparents of four and great-grandparents to eight.
Aquaro’s daughter, Kathleen Aquaro Cohen, came in from Florida along with her children, and her grandchildren, to be part of the celebration.
“Thanks to everyone for coming,” said the honoree and his wife, Gloria, who were floored by the turnout in Aquaro’s honor.
Anthony Jr. noted it was the first time in quite a while that all eight great-grandchildren were all together. “And my parents loved that,” he said.
“I think my dad’s favorite part of the day was stepping back into the firehouse,” Anthony Jr. continued. “I guess it brought back all his memories when he was young, and they had the bagpipers, you know, the drumming bugle corps from the Fire Department. They had PS 60, the grammar school, singing. They didn’t leave any stone unturned. They covered it all.”
The younger Aquaro also offered a shoutout to Linda Thompson of the New York City Fire Department who holds a position for the chief of the department, who coordinated the entire event and did an amazing job, he explained.
“I guess my favorite part of the day was, naturally, being with my whole family and also seeing how the Fire Department respected my father. I must say, the politicians, Congresswoman Nicole Malliotakis, Borough President Vito Fossella, and city Councilman Joe Borelli, gave unbelievable speeches. Beautiful speeches, all of them.”
“I was happy to join Anthony and his beautiful wife of 79 years, Gloria, for this amazing celebration,” said Malliotakis. It is always an honor to spend time with a World War II veteran, particularly one who also dedicated his career to serving our city as a firefighter.”
In addition to receiving proclamations from elected officials, Fossella, declared Sunday ” Anthony Aquaro Day on Staten Island.”
“My father is one of the kindest persons you will ever meet,” Anthony Jr. added. “He always puts people ahead of himself. I guess that’s why he was a fireman, because he served the public and that’s what he enjoyed to do.”
Anthony couldn’t help but reference Dec. 16, 1960, the day a commercial airliner crashed in Brooklyn, and the other one crashed at Miller Field on Staten Island.
“The one that crashed in Brooklyn was about four-five blocks from my dad’s firehouse. He remembers when they got the call. They didn’t know what was going on, and when they got there, they couldn’t believe what they were seeing… The plane actually flew over their firehouse before it crashed. It was unbelievable,” he said.
“If it wasn’t for the war, my dad might have been a professional baseball player. He was very good at baseball. He’s been a Yankee fan since he’s 10-years-old. He went on a school trip with his class to Yankee Stadium and the first player that he saw was Lou Gehrig. Lou Gehrig is his boyhood idol —his favorite Yankee till today. He’s an avid Yankee fan, he doesn’t miss a game. We watched a lot of the games [ Aaron Judge’s road to 62] together,” he added.
MORE ON ANTHONY
Anthony Aquaro was born in Brooklyn on Feb. 27, 1921. And since he excelled in baseball, many believed Aquaro could have easily gone pro had he not chosen to enlist in the military.
Anthony and Gloria met when Gloria was 14 and I was 16 and they were in high school.
“It was love at first sight,” the elder Aquaro said. “I was on a baseball team and we lost so many games. And when we won our first game, I was so excited, I asked: ‘Do I get a kiss? And she said I was fresh.”He added that, in time, “she made up for it. And we began dating.”
At the couple’s 75th diamond jubilee commemorative the family hosted a party in their honor at LiGreci’s Staaten — the West Brighton banquet spot where friends and family traveled from as far away as California, Texas and Florida to be part of the merrymaking.
“I married my husband during World War II in St. Catherine of Alexandria R.C. Church in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn,” said the former Gloria Polizzi, whose 100th birthday is in July.
She explained that after they married, they resided in a community deep-rooted with Americans of Italian descent in an area that boasted one of the largest Orthodox Jewish communities outside of Israel.
“We married when I was 20 and he was 22. We were very young and we married because of WWII. Things were different then and you didn’t live together. We wanted to be together because of the war.”
The couple still live on their own in an apartment in Rossville in the home of one of their grandchildren.
Anthony’s advice on a long and happy marriage? “In a marriage, you can’t be a big boss. There are two people involved and you have to respect each other’s wishes. And never argue with each other.”
Congratulations to the Aquaros on their magnificent milestones!
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