All Jennie Libertini wanted on her special day was to play bingo
What does a 109-year-old Maryland woman want for her birthday? For Jennie Libertini, the answer was simple: to play bingo.
“When she was asked what she wanted to do for her birthday, she said she wanted to have a bingo birthday party,” Marcy Shea-Frank, development director for the Little Sisters of the Poor at St. Martin's Home in Catonsville, tells PEOPLE. “So, that's what she got.”
But there were other ways Libertini was honored during her special party on Monday, Shea-Frank says.
“One of the girls Catholic high schools in Baltimore City came out here and spent a couple of hours singing to her before the party started,” she adds. “She just loved it.”
It’s never taken much to make Libertini happy. The first-generation American grew up “very poor” in Baltimore with her Sicilian immigrant parents and three siblings, according to the Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic nonprofit that “cares for the elderly poor.”
Libertini got married and had a son named Michael, though she and her husband divorced after one year, the organization said. Libertini would become one of the first women hired by the Social Security Administration.
As the years went by, Michael became his mother's caretaker, but he died at 83. “She went to live with a friend, but that didn't work out, so she came here," Shea-Frank shares, sharing that at the time Libertini was 105.
After she arrived, Libertini could often be found looking after her fellow residents at the center.
“She would go around to the tables, and she would make sure that people were eating,” Shea-Frank explains. “She would take food off her own plate and give it to them, and she was told that she didn't have to do that.”
But about a month ago, Libertini fell, the development director says. "Since that time, she has been in a wheelchair, and she's kind of stopped communicating,” she adds.
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But even with all of Libertini’s recent setbacks, her spirit hasn’t diminished.
“Jennie is just very caring, extremely sweet her whole life and just happy, very, very happy," the director says. “Even in the condition she's in now, all she does is smile and nod her head."
It’s that positivity that has influenced the 109-year-old throughout her time at the Catonsville home, a spirit that's also guided the Little Sisters of the Poor, Shea-Frank tells PEOPLE.
“Our mother foundress said back in 1869, ‘Making the residents happy is all there is,’” she says. “Jennie had that spirit of making everybody happy, is all there is. So, she came in here as a resident, but she came in here with the idea that she was going to make everybody happy and she was going to take care of everybody.”
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