For many in Morris County, Alex DeCroce was known as the state’s longest-serving assemblyman, who died suddenly last year.
For Lake Parsippany’s Theresa DeCroce, Alex was her eldest son. Family was on her mind at her 100th birthday party thrown by the Lake Parsippany Seniors Club on Tuesday. She will be a proud centenarian on Saturday, Sept. 28. On Tuesday, there was also a special visit from the mayor.
Parsippany-Troy Hills Mayor James Barberio presented an announcement proclaiming Sept. 17, 2013 as Mrs. Theresa DeCroce Day and “do hereby urge all citizens to join (him) in paying tribute to Mrs. DeCroce on this auspicious occasion of her 100th birthday.”
“It was a pleasure for me to honor Theresa DeCroce on her 100th birthday,” Barberio said. “What a milestone! I have known the DeCroce family for years and they have brought us a legacy of accomplishments, community service, and dignity. As the matriarch of the family, Theresa has a lot to be proud of.”
DeCroce said one of the best things in her life was “having my children in the United States. My oldest son was an assemblyman,” she said. DeCroce has four children—Alex, Ronald, Maryanne and Gerald. She also has four grandchildren, nine and a half great grandchildren and four great great grandchildren.
“I’m proud of my family, very proud,” she said. Maryanne was with her mother at the birthday party. But all three of DeCroce’s sons have died.
Maryanne DeCroce said her mother has always told her “It’s really important to live your life because … Life is like turning pages in a book and before you know it, it’s the end.”
For DeCroce, it doesn’t matter how many pages she has left to turn because she “had a good life,” she said. “We weren’t rich. We were on the poor side, but my mother and father taught us well and not to be envious of the people who have more money than you and be thankful to God for every day that you’re here on earth and do the best you can with what you (have).”
Her parents Rocco and Marianna Petrozzi came from Italy and Theresa Mary Petrozzi DeCroce was born in Worcester, Mass. on Sept. 28, 1913.
“My mother, she came in 1905 … my father worked for Westinghouse for 40 years,” DeCroce said.
DeCroce returned to Italy about 40 years ago to visit relatives.
“In 1975, I visited for three weeks. I loved it,” DeCroce said. “We kept giving out money to our relatives, the little kids.”
Maryanne DeCroce added with a laugh that her mother and sisters “were supposed to stay another week, but her sisters ran out of money and wanted to come home.”
DeCroce said, “when (my mother) left the family in Italy (in 1905), they were all poor and when I went in 1975, they lived better than we did in the United States. I was amazed at my mother’s family. All my cousins, they all had a winter home and a summer home,” said DeCroce.
“They had a home in the country and one in the city,” explained Maryanne DeCroce, adding that although her mom hasn’t returned since 1975, “I want to go though.”
“She’ll have to go someday,” said DeCroce, patting her daughter’s leg and smiling.
In the proclamation, the township gives a flashback into DeCroce’s early life.
“While she was in her teens, the Petrozzi family moved to Newark and shortly thereafter to West Orange. Theresa was a student at the Orange street Girls Vocational School for typing and shorthand and rode the bus to Orange to work at Woolworth’s.” In 1934 DeCroce met Santino DeCroce and “it was undoubtedly love at first sight. They were married 10 months later on Aug. 25, 1935 at Mount Carmel Church in Orange”
Most of DeCroce’s life has been spent in Lake Parsippany where she now lives after a short retirement to Boca. She and Santino ran a food stand they called Sans, said the township.
DeCroce founded the Lake Parsippany Ladies Club and today, she enjoys true romance novels and continues to “cultivate her love of jewelry and shopping.”
“Theresa DeCroce is worthy of having a day named in her honor as a small token of appreciation for her contributions to this community. By sharing her 100 years of wisdom and experience, Theresa has served as a role model for future generations,” said the township in its proclamation. “This remarkable woman has maintained a wonderful attitude and outlook throughout her life as a caring, loving wife, a nurturing mother, grandmother, great grandmother and precious relative and friend to many.”
Many of her friends at the senior club spoke of DeCroce’s generosity. DeCroce is the oldest in the club with the second oldest at 94 years old, said Mary Myers, 85, president of the Lake Parsippany Senior Club. Myers added that most members are in their 80s.
“Theresa is fantastic. She’s a blessed person,” said Myers. “She slowed down (recently). About three months ago, she lost her third son and it kind of knocked her out. Now she’s having a lot of trouble with osteoarthritis in her back and it gives her pain so she’s not been able to come out as much, but she looks great now. For a while there, we were really worried about her.”
Lifelong Parsippany resident Ronald Stephen DeCroce died in May at the age of 70, according to his obituary.
“She was taking care of her son (Ronald) for years before he recently passed,” said Club member Nettie Mcocca, 88. “Theresa takes care of her children and is always there to help. She makes beautiful cakes. She made this cake and I really liked it and she gave me the recipe for it. She’s very thoughtful and kind.”