Up in Years

R etirement means more than watching time slip idly past on an honorary gold timepiece. It’s an opportunity to indulge in your bucket list, start new hobbies, explore untested interests and, if you want, to reinvent yourself.

For three area seniors, it’s been as busy a time as ever.

Boxes have been New Haven nonagenarian Bill Ledewitz’s busy-ness for decades. Starting at age 15, when he attended Hillhouse High School, he worked alongside his father, a shirt manufacturer. The Great Depression eventually forced the pair to find a new endeavor: making boxes for all the manufacturers they knew in New Haven.

Clever with his hands and head, Ledewitz was soon packaging for Revlon, Proctor and Gamble’s Crest toothpaste, mattresses, pencils, pregnancy tests, A. C. Gilbert Erector Sets, bathing suits, coffee pots and even kitchen sinks. One of his biggest customers was General Electric, creating containers for forty different GE products.

Today, Ledewitz’s daily schedule is filled by 4 children, 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren, the latter of which he says he finds “smart and amazing.” At the time of our speaking, he hoped to soon have “a handheld computer” (either a Blackberry or a “Blueberry,” he wasn’t sure which) to master. Every morning he walks to Beth Hamedrosh/Westville Synagogue to make a prayer minyan and in May he’ll share a birthday celebration in Boston when he turns 99 and his big sister celebrates 100.

Ledewitz recently served as a consultant for a pair of young whippersnappers on how to package a new invention they’re looking to market. Next time they meet, in addition to professional advice, Bill may serve up a bowl of his hearty vegetable soup, the one he makes 9 quarts of every week. To all the good veggies, he adds a cup of lemon juice and 2.5 quarts of apple sauce, and he isn’t stingy with the garlic powder either.

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Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven

When Frances Wallnau, 90, moved into New Haven’s downtown senior housing Tower One/Tower East almost four years ago, she didn’t imagine the possibilities that lay before her. Suddenly she was making choices between seeing a Goodspeed musical or hearing a concert at Woolsey Hall, and between listening to a lecture on current events or attending a Yiddish class.

She says she previously knew many of the residents in the building but quickly made many “wonderful new friends” to sit with for dinner or for an evening of Rummy-Q. Her thirty years volunteering at the Jewish Home for the Aged, where her mother was a resident, stood her in good stead when she was asked to take over the management of the Tower One Gift Shop, a big job that, as Wallnau puts it, “turned out to be a perfect fit.”

A volunteer herself, she now manages 25-28 residents who come in Monday to Saturday, 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. and more often before the holidays, to sell clothing, jewelry, greeting cards, umbrellas, scarves, hats, handbags, wallets and even designer dresses and toys for grandchildren who come to visit. Wallnau also runs charity drives that have raised funds for cancer care and research, most recently for the Yale-affiliated Discovery to Cure. She is even a member of the “Knitting Ladies” at Tower One, needling hats, gloves and blankets together for Life Haven, bound for the homeless as well as pregnant women and children.

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Richard Wilson exhibition at the YCBA

Vincent Farricielli of Orange is a colorful guy, and not just because he started his career as a hair stylist and colorist before even graduating from high school.

His first job was at the old Malley’s on Chapel Street in New Haven. Soon he had his name over the door of his own salon, V. Farricielli’s Hair and Skin Studio.  For more than forty years, he expanded his hairdressing concern into a full spa and hair salon, an “oasis” with 19 hairdressers on Whitney Avenue in Hamden as well as a second salon on Crown Street in New Haven. Along the way, he was appointed a member of the National Hairdressers Association; was a styling instructor in both the United States and Europe; went to Atlantic City for the Miss America pageant for 13 years to attend to the makeup, hair and other grooming for Miss Connecticut; and devoted 22 years to holding extravagant fashion shows and entertainment galas at the Shubert Theatre, raising money for the Juvenile Diabetes Association and for AIDS Project New Haven.

Farricielli has received a total of 42 official awards and honors, including two Connecticut Man of the Year Awards from the National Hairdressers and Cosmetology Association (in 1992 and 1994), induction into the National Cosmetology and Hairstyling Hall of Fame (in 1997) and the Dorothy Award from the New Haven Pride Center (in 2007).

A year after retiring, he says, he went to the doctor and said, “’There’s something really wrong with me.’” After a checkup, the doc diagnosed him with boredom and told him to “’go get a job or three.’”

Farricielli did just that, first working part-time as a color consultant for a firm in Darien. Now he cuts and colors two days a week at Georgina’s Hair Studio in Orange and also serves as a Justice of the Peace, performing weddings on the water, in gazebos and even in his own dining room. He requests that happy couples make donations to AIDS Project in lieu of paying him to preside.

A longtime clarinet and saxophone player, he is now following in Liberace’s footsteps and taking piano lessons. A year ago while doing a customer’s hair, a newspaper editor by chance, he was invited with his long time partner Robert Modena to write a food column. Now he and Robert write one every three weeks, under the moniker “Two Guys,” for the Orange Times. At age 75, Vincent Farricielli hardly seems retired at all.

Who needs a gold watch for telling time when the years are already golden?

Written by Bonnie Goldberg. Photograph, depicting seniors out and about at a HomeHaven Fun event in August 2013, taken by Judy Sirota Rosenthal.

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By day, Bonnie sells life insurance and financial products at her Woodbridge office. By night, she attends theater and writes reviews for the Middletown Press and her blog, which is partnered up with the New Haven Register. A reviewer for 25 years, she’s been a correspondent for the Middletown Press for the past 12. When the curtains go up, she loves being in the front row.

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