The Century Club of St. Mary, Cherry Hill

The Century Club of St. Mary, Cherry Hill

Photo by James A. McBride

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The Century Club at St. Mary Catholic Home, Cherry Hill, includes, from left, Lena Ferrarese, 100; Mary Labascio, 104; Stella Skowronek, 103; Sister Agnes Henwood, 101; Marie Klaus, 101; Edna Campbell, 105; Helen Aversano, 100; Minnie Digangi, 100; Anna Gries, 99; Mary Apra, 101; Antoinette Riccardelli, 100.

If you spent a day at St. Mary’s Catholic Home in Cherry Hill, you wouldn’t be able to miss them.

You’d run into Edna Campbell, a lifelong parishioner at St. Peter Church in Merchantville, who remembers all of the pastors.

You’d see Mary Labascio, former travel agent, U.S. Postal Service worker and seamstress, playing bingo or listening to music.

Or Stella Skowronek, a pharmacist and teacher for 25 years in the Blackwood/Blenheim School District; or Marie Klaus, who loved fishing with her husband, or crocheting and sewing, now worshipping every day at Mass.

You wouldn’t miss Sister Agnes Henwood, a Dominican Sister of Hope, at the bingo table or in the pews; or Mary Apra, speaking to her friends and family in English or her native Italian; or Minnie Digangi, who worked at a men’s shirt factory in Philadelphia, and later at a cigar factory in Camden, relaxing in the gazebo.

Antoinette Riccardelli, who lived in Italy and the United States as a young girl, and married a barber from New York, would definitely capture your attention.

So would Lena Ferrarese, who came to the U.S. from Italy at the age of 7 and loved to cook Italian meals for her family; or Helen Aversano, who started working at 16 as a seamstress in a doll factory.

These 10 residents, each with her own unique life tales, all have something in common: each has lived at least a century on God’s green earth. And Anna Gries, a Mets fan who loves gardening and cooking, 99 years young, will join them on Dec. 29.

Their longevity is a testament not only to the women themselves and their families, but also to St. Mary’s, which, since 1952, staffed by the Little Servant Sisters of the Immaculate Conception, has been providing high-quality care for the elderly.

Maureen Kogelman, administrator at St. Mary’s, has grown “amazed, listening to these women’s lives before entering St. Mary’s, and all they’ve accomplished and endured.”

“It’s a true privilege to take care of them, and provide a loving, compassionate environment,” Kogelman said. “We hope we’ve enriched their lives, as much as they’ve enriched (the staff and residents’) lives at St. Mary’s.”

Long before the opening of St. Mary’s, these residents were surviving the Depression, working out of love for their husbands and children, or called to the religious life.

Edna Campbell, at 105, is the resident at St. Mary’s with the most life experience. Born Edna Krouse on May 13, 1907, she went to Public School Number 5 in Pennsauken and married Edward A. Campbell in 1930 at St. Peter Parish, where she received the sacraments. Edna and Edward raised four children, Leonard, Edward, Francis and Rita, and in 1972, Edna lost the love of her life.

Mary Labascio, 104, was born Mary Lario on Sept. 27, 1908, in Philadelphia, to a family with a strong Italian background and Catholic faith. Her parents and nine siblings later moved to Camden, where she attended Catholic school and, at 25, married Dominic Labascio; “We adored each other. He did everything I wanted, I did everything he wanted,” she recalled.

After her husband was drafted into the service in 1942, she joined him at Camp Wallace in Texas and worked at the U.S. Postal Service. Later work included time as a travel agent, and in insurance and real estate sales, and as a seamstress (she sewed all of her own clothes). Outside work, she liked to knit or crochet and play the piano, and at St. Mary’s she plays bingo almost every day, attends the socials and enjoys a good beer.

Stella Skowronek, 103, spent 25 years as a fifth grade teacher in the Blackwood/Blenheim School District after going back to college in 1960 and earning a teaching certificate. Twenty-eight years earlier, in 1932, she graduated from Temple School of Pharmacy and was a practicing pharmacist for several years before marrying Joseph and raising three boys.

Marie Klaus, 101, born in South Philadelphia as Marie Isard on March 12, 1911, worked briefly at Bell Telephone and at a local printing firm; it was while there that she met Albert Klaus. The two married in 1952 and moved to Gloucester City. Although not having children of their own, the two were close with Marie’s brother’s children, RoseMarie, Elizabeth, and Frederick III.

Fond of sewing and crocheting, she made doilies, table covers and doll clothing for friends and family, and after Albert’s death, she lived on her own until August 2011, when she came to St. Mary’s.

Sister Agnes Henwood, 101, grew up with 11 siblings before entering the Dominican Sisters of Hope at the age of 20. Having traveled to both Rome and Ireland, she now spends her days in Cherry Hill, attending daily Mass, playing bingo or enjoying the activities there.

Mary Apra, 101, born in Hoboken, is fluent in both English and Italian, and is the mother of 10; in her earlier years, she worked professionally, as a coat tailor.

Minnie Digangi, 100, was born Minerva Sacca on Nov. 5, 1911, in Philadelphia. During World War I she moved to New Jersey and was a student in a one-room, grade 1-8 schoolhouse.

From the spring to the fall, it was the custom for young boys to take off from school to tend the family farm, and from the age of 10 until 16, Minnie did the same during the Great Depression.

After moving back to Philadelphia, she worked at a men’s shirt factory, and later a cigar factory in Camden, before marrying Thomas Digangi at 19, and having her first daughter, Minerva, at 22. Today, she enjoys the company of family and friends and relaxing outside in St. Mary’s gazebo.

Antoinette Riccardelli, 100, was born Antoinette DeMola in 1912 in New York. She moved to Italy at the age of 6 and then, eight years later, back to New York, settling in Brooklyn. A lifelong worker in the New York Garment District, she married a barber, Richard Riccardelli, in the late 1930s, and the two spent 64 years together, raising five children.

Lena Ferrarese, 100, was born in Italy and came to the United States at the age of 7 with her mother. A month after they arrived her mother died, and she lived with her father, stepmother and seven stepbrothers and sisters. Married with three children, she spent her days working as a seamstress and in retail sales, and spent her free time cooking meals for family and friends.

Helen Aversano, 100, was born Helen Howarth on Sept. 3, 1912, in Trenton, and began work as a seamstress in the city at age 16. In her teenage years, she met and fell in love with Earl Aversano and married him in 1929. In addition to raising three children (Vivian, Dolores and Earl A.), she worked as a seamstress until her retirement.

Anna Gries, 99, born in Elizabeth to Katherine and John Lutz and raised in Baptistown, with three brothers and one sister, has raised four children (Jerome, Bernard, Joe and Joanne) with Joseph, who she married in 1930. With a love of gardening, baseball (the New York Mets), and cooking (German potato salad, sweet bread), Anna remains a member of the Rosary Society of her childhood home parish in Elizabeth, St. Mary’s.

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