The year 1917 served as ground zero for a number of institutions commemorating a centennial anniversary this year including the National Hockey League, the Lions Club International, Magnavox, Barnes & Noble, Nikon and soy sauce company Kikkoman. It was also when Phyllis Antonetz came into the world on March 8. And while she currently resides at The Carolton in Fairfield, CT, Antonetz’s Garden City roots date back to the 40 years she lived there with her late husband Alexander and their three daughters—Anna Maria, Catherine and Alexa. This after having graduated from New York University in 1937 before working a few years at Macy’s in Herald Square in the late 1930s, where she met and married her management colleague within nine months of meeting one another. As a homemaker and an avid community volunteer, the Manhattan native went back to school and earned a masters degree in education, graduating from Adelphi in 1972 before plunging into a career in teaching. As someone whose birth name is Filomena, which translates to mean “loves mankind, beloved,” teaching was a choice that gibed well with her love of life and people, according to daughter Cathee.
“My mother is very guiding—she is a good judge of people. As a teacher, she understood how every person is different and how everyone has a way of arriving at the end result. She understood how people could all be so different,” the younger Antonetz explained. “She was always looking for the success of the individual. And she herself enjoyed being with people and hearing what their life stories and situations were. She is such a people person, who is a real motivator and big inspiration for other people.”
Having grown up alongside her late siblings Salvatore and Mary Pirro as the children of Italian immigrants, Antonetz’s parents stressed education and being kind to others to the future 1933 graduate of Manhattan’s Julia Richmond High School. The idea of working hard towards your goals, love of family and having empathy for others was passed down through Antonetz to her three daughters by way of the summer cottage in upstate Clinton Corners that she would decamp to with her with husband and children over the years. Cathee remembers the valuable lessons imparted by both parents by spending so much time in a rural area.
“My dad and granddad built a cottage up there back in the 1950s. My dad would take off three or four weeks on any given summer because that was his vacation and we would go up to the farm country. My parents would grow all kinds of vegetables. Digging out the rocks and the weeds to prepare the soil was a matter of helping us to know that this is what you do,” she recalled. “You’re not just living in the suburbs and experiencing Manhattan on those occasions when they would take us to the city. They were teaching us that there was a whole different way of life going on where people live year-round in this situation where they go through brutal winters where they may not even have jobs, so to speak, other than getting ready for the spring, summer and harvest. That was a great growing-up experience.”
At the centennial party, the guest of honor was dressed in a long Japanese kimono her late husband had gotten her that had been worn to the duo’s 25th wedding anniversary party at Edmund’s Showcase restaurant located on Franklin Avenue in Garden City.
The 50-plus people attending this celebration were treated to a blessing given by Father Charles Allen from nearby Fairfield University and a room festooned with New York Yankees (her favorite team) and Macy’s red-star balloons and flower arrangements that included favorites including red roses and sunflowers. An avid Frank Sinatra fan dating back to when she and her bobby-soxer girlfriends would go see him perform and observe him socializing afterwards, Antonetz was entertained by the Chairman of the Board playlist that was the party’s soundtrack. Guests also saw a tribute table displaying meaningful items pertaining to her long life—letters, certificates, memorabilia and pictures. Among the items were a papal blessing from Pope Francis, a New York University letter and commemorative Class of 1937 certificate with seal signed by Brian Perillo, associate vice president Office of Alumni Relations and a congratulatory letter from Terry Lundgren, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s, Inc. Lundgren’s correspondence was read aloud at the party, thanking Antonetz for her time working for the retailer and congratulating the former employee on her milestone birthday.
Phyllis Antonetz continues to be relentlessly upbeat and when she’s not chatting with caregivers in her native Italian, spirituality continues to be an important motivator, particularly on the occasional down day. Oftentimes, saying a prayer with her daughter Cathee is a great way to make things brighter at this point in her life.
“When I get on the phone with my mom when I’m not there, I’ll ask my mom if she’d like to say a prayer together and she’ll say she’d like that. We say ‘Hail Mary’ and ‘Our Father.’ Sometimes I start, sometimes she’ll start, or sometimes we’ll start at the same time. But she knows both prayers and I know it’s a great sense of accomplishment for her of not just feeling spiritually connected, but that she’s able to accomplish this,” Cathee said. “She’s in her right frame of mind and God is with her. She’ll say to me ‘thank you’ again and again. She’s so thankful. She is just one of those people that doesn’t require a lot and is just always seeking out the adventure of life.”