COHOCTON — The 1929 marriage of Elizabeth Spagnoletti and Kenneth Wolcott caused quite a stir among local residents. For one, the bride was a Catholic and the groom a Methodist, making theirs a generally frowned-upon union for the times. Secondly, the young woman was the daughter of Italian immigrants — in a community where the Italian population was quite small.
"They didn’t think I was good enough. But I fooled them. I won them over," she said with a big grin.
One doesn’t have to spend long with Wolcott for her winning charms to pop up. She is sharp, witty, and friendly — qualities that have blessed this earth for 102 years.
"She’s mentally very with it," said Sister Mary Jean Smith, SSJ, a frequent visitor, adding that Wolcott "remembers dates, people’s names and facts amazingly."
During a recent get-together, Wolcott greeted Sister Smith at her door with a big hug. "She’s a lot of comfort to me," Wolcott told her other guests. "Well, you’re a special lady," Sister Smith replied.
Wolcott celebrated her 102nd birthday on April 14. She has spent her entire life in northern Steuben County, having lived the past 76 years on Lent Hill in the town of Cohocton, approximately six miles from the village by the same name.
Born in 1904, Wolcott grew up in the former St. Matthias Parish, in the nearby hamlet of Atlanta. Her father, Cosimo, came from Italy to work in the railroad industry, and her mother, Filomena, followed a few years later to take part in an arranged marriage. Filomena arrived in town with just the clothes on her back and homemade slippers on her feet — during a snowstorm, no less — because all her other possessions had disappeared on the ship passage over.
Elizabeth had two sisters and a brother. She attended high school until a bad flu sidelined her for a year. She then worked as a telephone operator — in the days when calls were plugged in by the operator — and cheerfully admits to having cut off some calls from eligible women attempting to reach her future husband while they were dating.
The couple married on June 26, 1929. Kenneth operated a potato farm, spending long hours with the crops while Elizabeth busied herself on the home front.
"My husband wouldn’t let me go out in the field," she remarked.
But she did tend the couple’s large chicken enterprise, washing and grading eggs. She also cooked and canned, and sewed all the family’s clothes. She cherishes the memories of raising her two sons, chuckling as she recalled a photo of one attempting to milk his pet dog.
The Wolcotts pumped well water by hand and had been married for several years before they even enjoyed electricity. Now Elizabeth enjoys such conveniences as a microwave oven. "Oh, my, I’m all electric," she said.
She never did get her driver’s license — "I’ve got a permit in my pocketbook right now"– because she was too busy to learn to drive.
The family lost its home to fire in the mid-1960s, but rebuilt a new house on the same land. Following the death of her husband in 1969, Wolcott stayed on at Lent Hill. Her sons are equally attached to the area: Roger lives right across the street, and Charles owns a huge dairy farm a few miles down the road.
"My neighbors all thought a lot of me. I’m not bragging, I’m telling the truth. And l liked all my neighbors," she said.
Wolcott’s propensity for staying busy continues to this day. She still likes to crochet, knit, garden, decorate the interior of her handsome home, and bake.
"She likes to bake her own bread. She never buys the store-bought brand," Sister Smith noted.
Between her two sons, Wolcott has 12 grandchildren as well as numerous great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren. Most of her extended family crowds a gigantic group photograph, taken for her 100th birthday, on display in her living room.
Except for arthritis, her health has been consistently good over the years. Though she rarely goes out and an aide comes twice a week to help with personal care and housekeeping, Wolcott maneuvers around fairly well with the aid of a walker. In addition, she often stays up until midnight. "I rest during the day, so at night I’m awake," she explained.
Her secret for longevity? "I never drink and I never smoked," she said, adding that her mother was similarly disciplined — except for an occasional glass of wine — and lived to be 103.
Wolcott is a longtime parishioner at St. Pius V Church in Cohocton. Sister Smith has gotten to know her quite well after moving to the area in September 2004 to help establish the "Kitchen Table Ministry" with two other Sisters of St. Joseph, Barbara Kuhn and Mary Ann Brunett. This visitation effort extends throughout Holy Family Parish, which includes St. Pius V as well as St. Joseph’s, Wayland; St. Mary’s, Dansville; and Sacred Heart, Perkinsville.
"Sister brings me Communion every week, bless her heart," said Wolcott, who also faithfully watches the televised diocesan Mass each Sunday.
The centenarian doesn’t seem overly concerned about how much time she has left on this earth, leaving that in the hands of God: "Whenever he calls me, I’ll go." She said she is quite content with the long life that God has provided to her.
"I’m so thankful. I’m very thankful," she said.