Rosalia Zona was born two months after the Titanic sank and survived the 1918 pandemic. She lived through the Great Depression, worked as a model and could have ended up in Hollywood.
She raised five children, secured a divorce and earned a college degree in her 60s.
She always kept going. In the years leading up to her 108th birthday in June, she could be found vacationing in such places as Italy and Bermuda, going to parties and taking piano lessons — even when she wasn’t feeling well.
“She didn’t let anybody or anything get her down. She was tough and determined; what she wanted, she made sure she got it,” said Zona’s longtime housemate and friend Mary Ann Romano, 78. “She really did everything.”
Zona, the Town of Huntington’s oldest resident, died Aug. 5 in Huntington Hospital after battling a blood and heart infection. She was 108.
Rosalia Zona was born June 17, 1912, in Hell’s Kitchen. She spent a couple of childhood years in a town just outside Milan, Italy, with her family, and later returned to Manhattan.
She became a model at age 14 with the John Robert Powers agency and did that into her early adult years. She liked to share memories of that time in her life, which included regular outings at Central Park Casino in Manhattan and the Lido Country Club in Long Beach. Romano said Zona turned down an opportunity to go to Hollywood to instead get married and have a family.
She married Raymond Havilcek in 1943 and raised five children in Queens. The family later moved to Dix Hills.
“She was a really … a very, very dedicated mother. She really wanted a big family — the more the better — and she just took care of everything,” said Zona’s oldest son, Ray Havlicek of Lake Placid.
When she was nearly 60, she went to college and majored in advertising and communications at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She graduated and worked as a fashion consultant for the now-defunct B. Altman and Co. on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan until she was well into her 70s.
After her divorce, Zona bought a Huntington Station home in 1971 and Romano, whom she'd met at FIT, moved out of her parents' house to move in with Zona, Romano said. The two lived in the house for the past 49 years.
Havlicek said Zona lived by the phrase: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.”
“That’s the way she was, and that’s how she survived,” Havlicek said. “All the bad things that happened in her life, including the divorce from my father, nothing stopped her. She just put her focus right back to where she needed to be and continued to move forward with her life in a productive and achieving manner.”
Zona was a free spirit, Romano said, recalling a cruise about 12 years ago when Zona participated in a magic show, taking the spotlight from the magician to become the center of attention.
“She stole the show from this man,” Romano said. “Everywhere we went, I could hear people say, ‘There she is, there’s Rosie.’ They wanted her autograph. They were making a big deal out of her.”
Throughout her life, she was an artist who painted and had a passion for gardening. She had a strong connection to the Catholic faith and placed many religious statues in her garden.
Havlicek said his mother had a “wonderful respect for knowledge” and always had an itch to learn new things — something she passed down to her children. She learned and spoke a few languages fluently, Romano and Havlicek said, including English, several dialects of Italian, French, Spanish and Yiddish.
“It’s connected to how social my mother was. She liked relating to people and would use language as a way,” Havlicek said. “New York being a multiethnic environment, she felt a need to pick up the languages in New York.”
Zona spent many of her final years staying active and involved in her community. In November, Newsday chronicled the friendship she formed with then-Oyster Rides cabdriver Alan Mancini, whom she lovingly called by his nickname, “Boom Boom.” He last drove her on Feb. 25.
Even though Zona couldn’t have the birthday party she hoped for in June at a Huntington restaurant, the party came to her instead: A parade was held outside her home, where she sat in a wheelchair wearing a tiara and a T-shirt that read “Queen of Huntington.”
In addition to Ray Havlicek, Zona is survived by daughter, Sarah Havlicek, twin sons John and Philip Havlicek, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Her son, Franklin Havlicek, preceded her in death.
Visitation was Aug. 2 at M.A. Connell Funeral Home in Huntington Station. A funeral Mass was celebrated at St. Patrick's Church in Huntington. She will be cremated.