BELOIT — Spending most of her life on a factory floor or in a garden, Josephine M. Giacalone always had plenty of exercise. It could be part of the reason she’s coming up on her 100th birthday on Jan. 17.
“She never sat still. Work was part of her lifestyle,” said her son, Mike Giacalone.
Josephine may take a tumble every once in awhile, but she gets up again. Despite recently spending five weeks in a nursing home recovering from what appears to have been a small heart attack, she is back in her home with her caretaker, Shirley Robotka, and is on the mend.
Her family is inviting her fans to an open house in her honor from 1 - 4 p.m. on Jan. 14 at the Rotary River Center.
Josephine doesn’t consider herself to have lived a life worthy of a news story, as she spent most of her time working or tending to family, but she wouldn’t have it any other way.
Born to immigrants from Sicily, she grew up on Harvey Street and attended Merrill Elementary School and Roosevelt Junior High. She had to drop out of high school early to take care of her mother who became ill.
She took a job at Freeman Shoe Company for 13 years where she operated the machines punching the holes in the shoes, only injuring her finger once. She walked to work every day, although she confessed she did take her father’s Model T for a spin in the driveway when he was at work.
She met her husband, Sam, who worked at Fairbanks Morse, at a dance hall in South Beloit. During their courtship, they traveled to all the dance halls in the area and married in 1948.
After her three boys were born — Joe, Jim and Mike — she started at McLeary Inc., a South Beloit snack manufacturer. She bagged up caramel corn and moved up to a supervisor position. Working there for 25 years was one of her fondest memories. She recalled how the McClearys would work alongside employees.
“It was a wonderful place to work and it moved up (promoted) its employees,” she said.
In the evenings she would make dinner, would tend to the gardening, and do canning and freezing. With money tight, gardening was a big event at the Giacalone home. Her husband had planted fruit trees and made a garden out of the adjacent lot. Never wanting to throw anything away, each morsel had to be accounted for.
“My parents would get out of work, eat, go to basement and stay down there until 9:30 p.m. canning and pressure cooking,” Mike said.
It was during her busy years she gleaned her life advice: “start small and be glad with what you have.”
One of her rare escapes was a trip she and her husband took to Italy to find family members in the 1970s.
Today, Josephine isn’t quite as active as she once was, but still prefers to move to sitting around watching TV. She’s always encouraged by her three sons who visit her daily. Joe lives in Fond du Lac and is a retired teacher. James is in Rockton working at Ecolab, and Mike lives in Roscoe working at Hamilton Sundstrand.
Some of her favorite times are when she sees her old co-workers from McCleary or hears good news about the company. She fondly recalls a tour she had years back.
“It's amazing how you see things start from nothing and see what happens over the years to come,” she said.