Lea Castellani Lupis recently celebrated her 99th birthday in Astoria with her old friend Marta Pope, behind her, and new friends met through her daughter Odette’s “English conversation class” for foreign-born residents at Queens Borough Council for Social Welfare. Odette, at left with scarf, said the program may endure heavy budget slashes at the start of the next fiscal year in July.
Lea is the 11th and last surviving member of the Castellani family. She was born during the reign of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. She married her husband, Bernardo Lupich, during World War II and as the war armistice was signed she escaped at night from Italy with 5-year-old Odette. They sailed away on a potato barge, landing in Venice where Bernardo worked with the American allies.
The refugee was always the epitome of healthy aging, Odette said, but just before her 95th birthday she suffered a stroke that landed her in a wheelchair.
Nevertheless she was all smiles on her birthday four years later.