Emma Pughielli always says she “can’t complain” about anything in her almost 100-year-long life, even though her grandson, John Frascella, said, “I’m sure she saw a lot of things that are disappointing.”
Emma was born in the Bronx to Amelia and Julius Palucci on May 23, 1921, and was the oldest of four children whom she helped take care of during the Great Depression.
In the 1940s, she met Ralph Pughielli, whom she married on Sept. 16, 1950. Together, they raised their two children, Pauline and Jeanne in Franklin Square, where Emma was involved in local bowling leagues and St. Catherine of Sienna Roman Catholic Church.
“She used to do a lot in the town,” Pauline Frascella said, adding that her mother is one of those people who would do anything to help those she loves. “She’s like one of those moms who would give you the shirt off her back.”
During the holidays, Pauline and her mother would bake together and make homemade macaroni and cheese, which, Pauline said, she feels “bad that I didn’t do” for her children.
Emma went to work at Franklin Square-based Card Collectors Company when her daughters were young, to help take care of the family financially. There, she helped prioritize and sort trading cards, including some Mickey Mantle rookie cards that she refused to take when the company eventually shut down, even though they would be worth $1 million.
As she got older, Emma would teach sewing and crocheting classes at the Franklin Square Senior Center. She later moved to a senior living facility in Calverton, where, John said, she has become a local celebrity as the community’s oldest resident.
In fact, for her 99th birthday last year, the community held a birthday parade for her, featuring a line of about 50 cars with at least two people per car each honking and waving as they passed by Emma’s house.
She now lives alone and would frequently go shopping with some of her friends in the neighborhood before the pandemic began one year ago. In 2015, she also won first-place at the Riverhead Senior Center’s Halloween costume contest, dressed as Uncle Sam.
Emma keeps her mind sharp with crossword puzzles and word searches, which, her granddaughter, Melissa Chipman, said the family would save for her whenever they traveled from their home in Oceanside to visit Emma in Suffolk County. There, Chipman said, she would make her grandmother rewatch “Singin’ in the Rain” and Shirley Temple movies “at least 700 times,” rewinding and replaying their favorite scenes.
She now likes to spend her time sewing and crocheting clothes for her third great-granddaughter, who was born on March 18, and loves cooking and baking her favorite foods, which, Chipman said, she remembers off the top of her head.
“She’s 100 percent there mentally,” Chipman said of her grandmother. “You would never know that she’s 100.”
And despite the loss of her siblings; her daughter, Jeanne; and her husband, Ralph; Pauline said, Emma “bounces on.”
She says her secret to a long life is to “keep a positive attitude,” “always push forward and never give up,” and “keep your mind active and always working.”
She is also always supportive of her family, who would like to celebrate her 100th birthday with a safe, intimate family gathering.