Sitting in a lawn chair, Mario Monocchio looked on as a parade of fire trucks, police squad cars and military vehicles passed by his daughter’s Tinley Park home.
His chair festooned with red, white and blue balloons, and small U.S. flags and red, white and blue pinwheels decorating the yard of his oldest daughter, Karen McDillon’s town house, Monocchio smiled at Sunday’s procession celebrating his 101st birthday.
Family and friends drove past, honking and shouting greetings in a celebration shaped by social distancing during a pandemic that really hasn’t phased the World War II veteran, who served with the 34th Infantry Division in Italy.
“He has a strong will and a positive attitude,” said McDillon, who works as a school psychologist and has caretakers helping tend to her father. “Not too many things bother him, which is good because that way you stay calm.”
Monocchio said that “eating three meals a day” and “doing the right thing” have been his keys to living more than a century, although the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted some of his daily routine.
A visit to the Culver’s restaurant near his daughter’s home had been a regular diversion, but McDillon told him he can’t go inside because the dining room is closed.
“He keeps saying ‘I can’t believe it,’” his daughter said.
McDillon said her father enjoys watching professional sports on TV, even though the offerings these days are repeats of past seasons, and that Lawrence Welk and Judge Judy are must-sees for him.
Coffee and doughnut holes are a daily mainstay, as are comfort foods such as meatloaf and spaghetti, she said.
Her dad’s date of birth in April 1919 is a bit fuzzy, McDillon said.
“He was born at home, as was common at the time, and there aren’t any records for his birth,” she said.
From baptism records the family settled on April 20 as Mario’s birthday, she said.
For Monocchio’s 100th birthday there was a large reception at the Tinley Park Veterans of Foreign Wars Bremen Post 2791, but this year was of course different.
After the parade, some family members, including Monocchio’s grandchildren, clustered near him on McDillon’s driveway.
Monocchio grew up in Chicago’s East Side, attended Bowen High School and worked at Wisconsin Steel for 40 years, McDillon said.
He was drafted in May 1943 and discharged, with the rank of corporal, in November 1945, she said. Three of Monocchio’s brothers were also in the Army during World War II in stateside posts, she said.
McDillon said her dad came from a musically talented family, and that he has enjoyed playing jazz guitar much of his life, even attending music school on the GI Bill after the war.
“He always played for fun but was never in a band,” McDillon said. “Every once in a while he’ll pick up the guitar and strum it.”
McDillon said that she and her sister look after Monocchio, and McDillon also has two caretakers who assist her.
She said her dad has health issues, including kidney disease, and takes a variety of medication.
“He never drank and never smoked,” she said. “He’s still going strong, which is amazing.”
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