Blue, gold and silver balloons hung from the ceiling. A banner reading, “Happy Birthday Gene,” welcomed guests to the lounge of The Arbors Assisted Living Community of Westbury in Jericho Tuesday.
To celebrate his 107th birthday, Gene Scala grabbed 106-year-old friend Lucy Richter, pushing her walker aside, and began dancing with her in front of friends and family on Tuesday.
“There’s no secret [to living this long], only God knows,” Scala said. “I tell everybody not to have any arguments. That’s the worst thing you could do. Always give in, never fight.”
This year, he celebrated much like last year, blowing out candles, eating cake, singing, dancing and taking pictures with friends and family.
Scala, who bowls in a league at AMF Syosset Lanes every Wednesday afternoon, was recognized by the United States Bowling Congress as the second-oldest active bowler in the United States as of last year.
“I’m not as good as I used to be,” said Scala, who began bowling at age 18. “I used to have a 180 average, now I’m close to 135, but I still throw the ball pretty good.”
Scala, who has been living at the Arbors since 2005, greeted his family members one by one, wearing his own handmade beaded hat, with sequins sewn onto his tie and belt.
His niece, Margherita Rieth, describes her uncle as upbeat, self-sufficient and inspiring.
“We’re really happy to have him. He’s our last connection to the family,” said Rieth, 69, of Wantagh. “How many people do you know that are 107 years old and can function as well as he does? We’re all very happy to share this day with him.”
Scala was born in Naples, Italy in 1905. After he completed trade school, honing his skills in music, tailoring and cutting hair, he moved to Brooklyn with his family at age 14. In 1946, he moved to Long Island to live in East Islip, working as a beautician and playing the saxophone. Since then, he had married three times and had three children, who are all since deceased.
“I played anything,” said Scala, who took up the saxophone at age 21. “I used to play in symphonies and old night clubs.”
Jaycee Driesen, a sultry singer from Freeport, came back for a second dose of Scala’s full-of-life personality, by singing and dancing, while trying to get everyone to rise to their feet.
“They had such a good time last year that they wanted me back,” Driesen said after performing songs by Barbra Streisand and Nina Simone. “I was excited to come back. My mother and father were both in a facility like this, so these people are close to my heart.”
After blowing out his candles and making the first cut of cake, Scala blushed after family and friends swarmed around him to catch Driesen leaving a faint lipstick mark on his cheek.
“I feel just as good as when I was 25,” Scala said, smiling. “It gets better and better, every day.”
Above: Gene Scala celebrates his 107th birthday party at The Arbors Assisted Living community of Westbury on Tuesday afternoon. Singer Jaycee Driesen, right, and Elsa Nelmes, recreation director for The Arbors Assisted Living Community, aid Scala as he gets ready to blow out his candles. (Aug. 21, 2012)