The Clara Barton Community Center just celebrated the birthday of one of its oldest, and longest participating members.
Rita DiLazzara of Bethesda enjoyed laughter, cake and a visit from Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett during a party hosted in honor of her 103rd birthday Wednesday morning.
At 103, Rita is one of Montgomery County's oldest residents, according to Judith Welles, chair of the county's Commission on Aging, which advocates on behalf of seniors.
"Rita has such a wonderful sense of humor, which is so important—the ability to smile, laugh and have fun," Welles said.
County Executive Leggett stopped into the party on his way to Annapolis Wednesday morning to wish Rita a happy birthday, and to present her with a county certificate commemorating the occasion.
"I commend you for your strong spirit of family and community, and I wish you many more years," he said.
Rita assured him that she had many more left and later joked that she would hang her birthday plaque on the front door of her family's house for all to admire.
Rita has spent her life between Italy and the United States. Born in New Haven, Conn., in 1910, Rita returned to Italy with her family when she was 9 years old, where she lived until she was 18. She then returned to New Haven where she met and married her first husband, Joe.
Years later, when Joe passed away at age 74, Rita moved in with her only daughter, Alvina Long, and son-in-law in Bethesda to help them raise their family. Rita boasts six grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, many of whom still live close by in the DC area.
Several years later, at age 72, Rita reconnected with and married an old high school friend from Italy in the early 1970s.
According to family members, Rita wrote to her friend a condolence letter for his wife's passing. He wrote back asking her to marry him. With their families' blessings, the two were married in Potomac, and lived together in Italy for 10 years before he passed away in 1992.
Rita then returned to Bethesda, where she has now lived a total of 35 years, Alvina said.
Her secret to a long life?
"Do all the work you're supposed to do, eat, work, sleep—It all comes by itself," Rita said. "Age doesn't mean anything, day by day. When you get older you can rest a little more, but not too much. I'm still walking around."
For more of Rita's story, check out her video biography here.