The residents of Canyon Gate Apartments in Golden know when Antonette (Toni) Velardi is cooking. The scents of garlic and oregano float down the halls as she whips up whatever Italian recipe is on the table for the day — be it pizza, pasta or something involving eggplant.
Lucky for her neighbors, Velardi always shares. She treasures them and consistently offers homemade pastries, visits outside on summer afternoons and walks to the Golden farmer’s market.
Velardi is a cook, a social butterfly, a live music lover and a nature enthusiast.
And on top of all that, Velardi is 100 years old.
On Aug. 31, dozens of friends and relatives gathered in an event space at Canyon Gate, a subsidized senior apartment building, to celebrate an entire century of Velardi’s presence in this world.
“She is a favorite amongst all residents there,” said Vickie Meehan, the centenarian’s private caregiver who planned the celebration with Velardi’s daughter. “She gives so much, and it’s just amazing how much she adds to the community.”
“She adds a ray of light here,” said Jeanie Maurer, the sister of one of Velardi’s closest friends. “She never has an unkind word to say about anyone.”
Similar admirations and appreciations of Velardi’s kindness were reiterated by countless loved ones at the gathering, some of whom had known her for their whole lives, and others for only a few years.
“I’ve been here just a little over four years,” said Canyon Gate resident Kathy Forchas. “Toni came a little bit after I did, but it made a big difference.”
About four years ago, Velardi moved into her Canyon Gate apartment. This move brought her closer to her daughter and son-in-law in Golden and her son's family in Crested Butte. After living most of her life in Rhode Island, where she was born on Sept. 2, 1922, she wanted to be near family for her late senior years, according to her daughter Elaine Marolla.
Marolla said she thinks Velardi’s positivity is the key to her health and happiness.
“She has never said negative about anyone or anything,” she said. “So having a positive attitude, I think, is maybe what brings out good mental wellness, which brings out good physical wellness.”
Not only does Velardi look at the world in a positive light, but she also motivates herself with a can-do mindset that everyone could learn from, Marolla said.
“As she’s aged, one of her favorite expressions is ‘When I wake up in the morning, if I don’t have a plan, I make one,’” she said. “She’s a positive person.”
According to Velardi, the secret to a happy life is having good people in it.
“If it wasn’t for my family, I’m sure I wouldn’t be here this long,” she said. “I’m so happy that I moved to Colorado… And I met some wonderful friends and they’re making my life so wonderful to live.”
Velardi returns the favor by improving her friends’ lives, said Canyon Gate resident Jeri Millar.
In a card to Velardi, she wrote that although living to be 100 is amazing and rare, “what really needs to be celebrated is you — and the exceptional good, kind, inspirational, joyful and unconditionally loving person you are.”
After a century of life, Velardi is overwhelmed by gratitude and is happy to keep living.
Her advice for a good life is simple:
“Be happy, enjoy life, and be thankful every day,” she said. “Who wants to die when there’s so much to live for?”
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