At 106, Crete man says secret to longevity is being ‘a good boy’
By Nick Swedberg Correspondent May 11, 2014 10:02PM
Cosmo Merlini, a resident at Village Woods in Crete, celebrated his 106th birthday on Thursday, May 8, 2014. | Nick Swedberg~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 13, 2014 6:36AM
A smile sprawls on Cosmo Merlini’s face when he’s asked about his secret for living longer than 100 years.
“Be a good boy,” the Village Woods resident said while clasping his hands and looking up.
Merlini, who lives in the Crete-based retirement community, celebrated his 106th birthday Thursday afternoon. His hearing isn’t what it used to be but Merlini’s sense of humor can still make a table of people laugh.
Born on May 8, 1908 in Chicago Heights, Merlini attended Franklin School through the 7th grade before entering the workforce.
Merlini’s first job was in a small shop making handles for tools and drawers. He later worked as a caddy to millionaires who played golf in Olympia Fields.
After apprenticing as an upholsterer at a furniture shop, Merlini started his own small business, Built Right Furniture, and ran it successfully until he was drafted into the Army during the early 1940s.
Merlini, a successful businessman and trained furniture maker, was headed to war. But, according to his family, his skill with upholstery would keep him out of action.
“When they found out he was an upholsterer, he really lucked out,” said Elton Johnson, Merlini’s 72-year-old stepson who lives in Chicago Heights.
While stationed in Hawaii, Merlini’s commanding officers learned about his craft and put him to work repairing furniture on the base.
After the war, Merlini married Dina Falcioni at the age of 49. He had never married before and she was a widow. He returned to the furniture business and worked in it until retiring at Village Woods in 2007. His wife, who lived with their children for several years before the end of her life, died in 2009.
Merlini’s daughter, Genevieve Johnson, 74, said her father is still independent and prefers to do things himself.
“The only thing he wants any assistance for is giving him his medication,” Genevieve said.
Until recently, Merlini was still working with his hands and making small wooden items for residents, Genevieve said.
Merlini is the oldest resident at Village Woods, which has seven other people 100 years or older living there.