November 1, 2005 > Senior Spotlight
by John Fisher
Every senior is special by right of longevity. Meet two of the finest: Tony and Rita Vierra. I was introduced to them at the Ralph and Mary Ruggieri Senior Center in Union City by Recreation Supervisor, Larry Orozco.
We all age at the same rate. Those older than us just started sooner! With that in mind it might change our outlook if we remember that we too, shall be seniors. Forget senior stereotypes when you think of Tony and Rita. To them, senior is just a word. I was fortunate enough to catch them between activities. They had just completed their morning walk and were enjoying the company of other walkers sitting in the dining hall at the Ruggieri Senior Center. They were kind enough to allow me a few minutes of their busy schedule. In a short while they would be leaving to deliver meals to other seniors on their Meals on Wheels route.
Tony and Rita are both Bay Area natives and have lived in Union City since 1974. Tony was born in Vallejo and Rita in Oakland. They have 10 children, (six girls and four boys), 16 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. The last five children graduated from James Logan High School. Three of their children are doctors and one is an attorney. "They all have degrees of some kind," said Rita. Certainly, Tony and Rita have reason to be proud.
Tony and Rita were married in 1947. Tony had just finished four years in the military and Rita was working as a teller at Bank of America. With Tony's military pay and Rita's savings they put $2,000 down on a home in Oakland. Their house payment was $47 a month. Rita was going to continue working until they were able to buy furniture. They both laughed and said, "We never did get that furniture! We had our first child within a year of getting married."
Tony worked at an auto parts house for five years then went to work for Sears as an appliance repairman until he retired. Tony was an electrician before entering the military so his training and experience was used in that capacity while he was in the Air Force.
"We lived in that house for 30 years," stated Tony. "It was a small two bedroom house. We just kept adding on as the children arrived."
"We found out about powdered milk. You could purchase 50 lbs. for $25. We mixed it with a blender everyday. And Oatmeal! We bought a ton of that!" and they laughed again, "We still like and eat Oatmeal."
What today may be taken for granted was at one time only a dream. As it has been stated many times, "from the small acorn grows the mighty oak tree." "We were just a group that got together to walk," stated Tony. That group led to forming, in 1988, the Union City Senior Association that began meeting at the Holly Community Center in the Alvarado district. Ralph and Mary Ruggieri along with Tony and Rita Vierra and others were instrumental in starting the association. That association led directly to the present Ruggieri Senior Center. Ralph Ruggieri was president of the Senior Association until ill health curtailed his activity. Tony stepped in and held the position of president for three years.
Tony and Rita believe that physical activity is essential for seniors, and practice that belief. They attend six exercise classes per week. Tony introduced and taught Line Dancing in Union City but eventually gave it up (at age 65) for less strenuous exercise. They switched to Ballroom dancing for a while. Tony also volunteers as a Bingo caller at the center. By the way, Tony is 89 and Rita will be 85 in December!
They were also active as the Union City representative for the Department of Aging. Josephine Pando, in her 80th, year has taken on that responsibility. They were keen to expand my knowledge of the center's activities such as the newly started "Fall Risk Reduction Program." Tony and Rita have an abundance of knowledge concerning all things senior; vital statistics, available services, people to contact and more.
"We are not couch potatoes, and we don't watch TV," said Tony. They could if they wanted; their children presented them with a home theater entertainment center.
Recently, Tony and his wife drove to El Paso and Salt Lake City to visit their children. Tony feels it is important for seniors to stay mobile for as long as possible.
I have spoken with Tony and Rita on two occasions for this article. Both times I have left feeling invigorated and uplifted by their attitude toward life. "Eventually," Tony mused "all your life experiences pay off." If you are a regular at the Ruggieri Center you have probably met them, if not drop in and introduce yourself, you will be glad you did. Consider that Tony and Rita have survived the Great Depression, WWII, and brought up 10 children. The Tri-City area, and especially Union City, is a better place because of citizens like Tony and Rita Vierra.