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106-Year-Old Mary Frances Cesco Will Lead Los Alamos Old Days Parade as Grand Marshal

She has been to almost every Old Days celebration since the event started 72 years ago, and will lead the Greatest Little Small Town Parade on Sunday

woman in car Click to view larger
At 106 years old, Mary Frances Cesco no longer drives but lives an active life. She will be the grand marshal of the parade during Los Alamos Old Days, which is on the weekend of Sept. 28-30.  (Jeffrey Bloom Photography photo)

Mary Frances Cesco was nearly 35 years old when the first Los Alamos Old Days was celebrated 72 years ago.

Now, at 106 years old, she will be the grand marshal of this year’s parade.

And although she moved to town from Hollister only about a year ago, she has rarely missed one of the annual celebrations. Her daughter Mary Caldera suggested to the Los Alamos Valley Men’s Club, which sponsors the event, that her mother be chosen as this year’s Grand Marshal.

“She is the oldest person in town, and has been to almost every Old Days celebration since it began. Plus everyone in town knows her,” Caldera said. “My mother will be 107 on Nov. 15. She was born in the same year as Solvang was founded.”

This year’s Old Days is scheduled for this weekend, Sept. 28-30, with the parade stepping off at 11 a.m. on Sunday.

Cesco was born when bread was 5 cents a loaf, milk was 34 cents a gallon, a new car cost $500, and the average price of a house was $4,800. Taft was president of the United States and the annual income was $983 a year. She has seen the dawn of the Industrial Age, from the creation of the automobile to space travel.

She was born in Napa, California, to Francisco Jose Terra and Florence Martin, immigrants from the Azores Islands. The family struggled to stay together, but when she was 11 her parents “chose to go their ways,” and the family moved to Gridley, a farming town in the Central Valley, to live on a ranch with her godparents and seven children.

She has fond memories of growing up with her uncle on the ranch. She recalls her father visiting her on many occasions and taking her for rides in his Model T. She also remembers her father being a very good woodworker, making anything he wanted to out of a tree trunk.

woman playing accordian
Mary Frances Cesco plays her accordion surrounded by her cousins in this undated photograph. (Courtesy photo)

Cesco has only a third-grade education because she says “at that time schooling for girls was not considered important. Now you can never have too much schooling.” Around 10 years of age she taught herself to play the accordion. She says she could play anything after hearing it only once. She played through her adult years but says, “I don’t think I could play anything now.”

In 1929, at the age of 18 she married Tony Vierra, a Gridley resident, and they had two children, Bernice (Galdos), who passed away last year and “Little Mary” (Caldera) who has lived in Los Alamos for nearly 35 years.

“We lived through the Great Depression but it didn’t affect us much as we lived on a ranch. We had everything we needed to survive — milk, chickens, ducks, and meat,” said Cesco.

After 20 years of marriage she and her husband “went our separate ways.”

Still living in Gridley, she met her second husband, Milo “Mick” White, at a dance. She was a beauty, judging from her photos in an album her daughter lovingly fashioned for her 100th birthday. They moved to West Sacramento where Mick owned a barber shop and Mary Frances worked as a model for Kendall’s Dress Shop. The album contained newspaper clippings of ads for Kendall’s Dress Shop featuring Mary Frances modeling the store’s apparel. At that time she also discovered she had a talent for color and design and began dressing up the shop window.

“That was the happiest time in my life. I loved working in the dress shop,” said Cesco. “Everyone was so nice there. I had a lot of fun.”

girl throwing rope Click to view larger
Faith Korte, 6, of Whittier, takes a turn at “calf” roping during last year’s Los Alamos Valley Old Days. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk file photo)

She also recalled that while living in West Sacramento, she entered a hand-crocheted tablecloth in the California State Fair and won first prize, for which she is extremely proud. She also recalled a story about her little dog, Ginger, who she said could “do everything but talk.”

“When Mick would come home I would say to the dog, ‘Go climb up the ladder, but stop half way up,’ and up she went, stopping in the middle. Then I would say, ‘OK, climb to the top,” and up she went and would stay there until I asked her to come down. Then I would ask her to dance, and round and round she went on her back legs until I said, ‘That’s enough now.’ She was the best and smartest dog in the whole world.”

After Mick’s death, Cesco moved to Hollister to be nearer her daughters. There she met and married Everett Cesco, who encouraged her to take up oil painting.

She proudly displays the dozen or so landscape paintings, mostly miniatures, on the walls of her new home. Her paintings are of such fine detail that they leave the viewer with the feeling of being able to step right into each one.

Last year, the family decided to bring her to Los Alamos, where she lives in her own home on the property of her granddaughter, Susette, and husband, Al Bennett.

“I like it here, because I am in my own house and I do what I want. If I can’t find something to do outside, like trim the roses, I come in the house and read a book,” she said. “I am happy that I made the decision to move here. I like my house. The kitchen is a little small, but after all, it’s only for me.”

She was recently given a cane to help with her balance, and her response was, “Does this mean I have to use this thing for the rest of my life?”

“My mother remains active. She’s always on the go, involved in one thing or another. She is very independent,” Caldera said.

When asked by a resident if she voted for FDR, her response was, “It’s none of your business!” She minds her own business and expects others to do the same.

Cesco’s face and comportment are that of a beautiful 80-year-old woman. Still concerned with her appearance, she has her white hair coiffed regularly and dresses with style. She still has a driver’s license but doesn’t drive.

Her remaining legacy is her daughter, Mary, two stepsons, five grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren, 15 great-great-grandchildren and three step-grandchildren. She also has three brothers and two sisters, all younger.

When asked if she did anything special in her life to live so long, like daily exercise or taking vitamins, her response was simple. “No, I just keep moving.”

The Greatest Little Small Town Parade starts at 11 a.m. Sunday on Bell Street in Los Alamos.

For more information on the weekend festivities, visit www.solvangusa.com/events/los-alamos-old-days.

Click here for more stories from the Santa Ynez Valley Star. 

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