By Kaitlin Hoskins, News Editor
She may have spent her younger years dining in the California homes of stars like Bob Hope and Frank Sinatra, but these days, 100-year-old Nina Tenerani enjoys spending her time volunteering at the Gadsden Public Library and playing cards with her numerous friends.
Tenerani, who celebrated her 100th birthday on Sunday, December 17, received not one, but two surprise parties thanks to her dear friend Patricia Feit.
Feit worked hard behind the scenes securing proclamations from Gadsden Mayor Craig Ford, Rainbow City Mayor Joe Taylor, Etowah County Commissioner Tim Ramsey, Alabama State Senator Andrew Jones and Alabama State Representative Mack Butler. She also contacted Alabama Governor Kay Ivey’s office and as a result, Tenerani received a handwritten birthday letter from Ivey.
Feit organized two parties, one Saturday, December 16 at Rainbow City’s Activity Center and one Monday, December 18 at the Gadsden Public Library.
“It was a complete shock,” Tenerani said at her second party. “I’m just a person. I’m a nobody, really. You’re all too kind.”
Tenerani moved from the San Fernando Valley in California to Alabama when she was 79 years old, much to the surprise of her California friends.
“I came to visit a friend many years ago and fell in love with the place when I got off the plane,” Tenerani said. “When I got off the plane there was no one around. When you get off a plane in California there’s thousands of people around and 12 lanes of traffic. But here [Alabama] there was nothing like that.”
Tenerani traded in her fast-paced California life for the slower pace of Alabama after she found a home in Rainbow City, where she still lives now.
“I just love the slower pace here. In California the speed limit might be 65 [mph] and people are passing you and wanting to go faster. Here, the speed limit is 55 [mph] or so, and no one is in a hurry usually. It drives my son mad, but I got over it easily.”
Tenerani no longer drives, but her son Jim helps her get where she needs to go. She volunteers at the Gadsden Public Library every Monday afternoon, she plays cards with friends a few times a week and she reserves Thursdays for her appointments with doctors or running errands.
Prior to COVID-19, Tenerani volunteered at Gadsden Regional for several years.
“When coronavirus started up, they kicked us all out,” Tenerani said. “They said we were too old and too vulnerable to the disease.”
Tenerani says she has never had a “serious illness” and that she is overall healthy. She mentioned a bout of whooping cough as a child and three cases of skin cancer she blames on her years spent on the California beaches.
“I didn’t think I’d live this long,” she joked. “I’m not sure why I have. God did that. Not me.”
She attributes her health to eating a good breakfast — eggs and spinach — and staying active.
“Your body is meant to stay moving. It was made for movement. I used to go line-dancing, but I couldn’t do the hops required for it anymore. But I play cards and I keep my mind active. That is important too.”
Tenerani also attributes her health to never drinking or smoking, even when social pressure would rear its head.
“We would be at those parties for Hollywood and you know what that means,” Tenerani said. “My husband would say ‘you should have a drink in your hand or people might think you are against drinking.’ So, I would have a 7-Up in my cup and no one knew.”
Tenerani’s husband, whom she says died too young at the age of 65, had a way of getting her to try new things, no matter their age.
“He took me snow skiing at 40 years old,” Tenerani said. “Have you ever fallen while skiing on snow? I tell you, it is something else. He took me water skiing too. Of course, I couldn’t swim, but when you are water skiing you have a life jacket on, so it is okay.”
Tenerani had 40 years with her husband and it was not nearly enough.
“I miss him dearly, I do,” Tenerani said. “It’s just me and my son now.”
Tenerani’s father, a restaurateur, immigrated to America from Italy when he was a young man. According to her, he came in through Ellis Island.
She grew up in the middle of two brothers, one older and one younger. Because of her brothers, Tenerani grew up to be a “tomboy.”
“I was a tomboy,” she said. “I think I still am. Maybe that’s why I have lived so long.”
Tenerani was not afraid of work. She worked various jobs over her decades of life, but she spent most of her time working at a telephone company in different roles. She was an operator before she was moved to the business office and then to administration.
Her husband, James, worked alongside stars in Hollywood and helped get shows like Gunsmoke off the ground, according to Tenerani. Because of his work, he travelled a lot, but she did not mind it.
“He always brought me home a nice gift when he travelled,” Tenerani said. “I don’t know if it was his guilty conscious, but I loved the gifts.”
Tenerani herself has travelled extensively. She has visited Australia, China, England, France, Italy, Russia and China. Her one travelling regret is that she never was able to visit Germany.
“They won’t let me fly now,” Tenerani said. “I guess I’m too old and they are afraid I’ll have a heart attack on the plane.”
After her surprise party Monday, Tenerani visited with some of her friends before she returned to her volunteer post, which is one of her favorite things to do.
“I love the people [at Gadsden Public Library],” Tenerani said. “I can talk to anyone and sometimes people will stay for over an hour just talking.”