Frances Tantalo Fonte – a fountain of youth

By on May 15, 2017

Frances Tantalo Fonte is 105 years old and claims that her fountain of youth has been eating a lot of hot peppers. Her vivid memory attests to a life well lived.

Frances Fonte. Provided photo

Frances Fonte. Provided photo

The year was 1912. Eggs were 80 cents a dozen, Arizona was admitted to the Union as the 48th state and Titanic sank off the coast of Newfoundland. Frances was born on February 7 to Rita and Pasquale Tantalo. Her childhood was like many who were born in that era. Her family was not well off but she grew up in a big, Italian extended family that was rich in love and laughter.

“We were poor but my father worked hard. We took in boarders to help pay the bills,” Frances explained. “The Salvation Army gave us food, toys and gifts at Christmas time.”

Frances easily recalls childhood memories. “We used to go swimming at Brown’s Square. I didn’t have a bathing suit. I wore a dress and pants. My aunt owned a saloon on the corner of Oak and Allen Streets. She had a huge bowl of cherries on the bar. I loved eating those cherries!,” Frances said.

Music was important to the Tantalo family. Frances’ father played a reed (an instrument similar to a recorder).

“He played the old, Italian music. My brothers, sisters and I would dance,” she said. “When we were young, we would go to weddings and put on a show. I was about 12, my sister was four and we would dance. My one brother played the drums, another walked on his hands. We danced the Charleston and even the Russian Dance. We were the entertainment,” Frances recalled. “People would throw coins and dollars at us and that’s how we made money.”

Frances went to work at a young age. She was 15 years old when she became a shoemaker at Quality Heel, a factory in Rochester, where she covered the heels of women’s shoes.

“I quit school, my cousin got me the job. I finished shoes for Eleanor Roosevelt. I covered the heels of her shoes,” Frances said. “Boy, she had a big feet,” Frances added with a laugh.

She met her husband Vic and married at the age of 20. The couple had a daughter whom they named Rita for Frances’ mother. She is their only child.

After only 13 years of marriage, Frances’ husband passed on May 5, 1945, a day she will never forget. He was serving in the Navy during World War II. After his death, Frances and Rita lived with Frances’ parents and they helped raise her only child.

Frances and Vic Fonte. Provided photo

Frances and Vic Fonte. Provided photo

Rita Fonte-Amorese describes her mother as resilient and someone who has a big heart. “My mother has endured many hardships but she has adjusted to whatever adversity has come her way. She was a hard worker. She never said ‘Why me?’ My mother is generous and has an incredible memory,” Rita said.

Rita has so many memories of time spent with her mother. Saturdays were saved for mother-daughter special days. Trips to downtown Rochester included shopping, movies, and lunches at the McCurdy’s Tea Room, or Sibley’s. “Lunch at Sibley’s was a hot dog and a malt,” Rita said. “We would go to McCurdy’s to buy goodies at the bakery,” Frances added.

Frances has four grandchildren who live in the area and visit her often. Frances lives at Wedgewood Nursing Home in Spencerport. When her oldest grandson visits, he brings Chinese food, one of her favorite dinners. Frances is quick to say, “It has to be good, authentic Chinese food!”

Frances’ long life has been measured by love, by sacrifice and by joy. She will gladly tell anyone, “I’ve had a lot fun, laughed a lot and ate a lot of good food.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login