What do you buy a 105-year-old woman for her birthday?
Carmela Trippi doesn’t want for much – unless you’re talking fresh tripe or lobster. The former political maven who counts Robert Kennedy and Henry Nowak as friends was happy on a sultry Sunday afternoon dressed in cool white and seated near an open door at Friendship House in Ellicott Creek Park.
Outside, Ted’s Hot Dog catering service kept her guests happy with signature hamburgers, hot dogs and chicken on the grill.
Trippi through the years was accustomed to cooking for her large family that includes four children, 15 grandchildren, 25 great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren.
Husband John Trippi, a craftsman, died in 1965. She did not remarry.
Granddaughter Patti Manzella praised Trippi for preparing the family’s St. Joseph’s Day table, an annual feast from the Trippi kitchen until the elderly woman began to lose her eyesight because of macular degeneration.
Meanwhile, Friendship House started filling up. District 3 County Legislator Peter Savage III and State Supreme Court Justice Eugene Fahey stayed on. And the door was being watched for signs of retired Congressman Nowak, for whom Trippi worked as clerk for 18 years.
As the table reserved for presents was being covered with envelopes, those present admitted it was not easy finding the perfect gift for the former president of the Jacqueline Kennedy Women’s Democratic Club.
“I was going to give her a massage, but I did not think that would go over too well,” said daughter Rosalie Manzella.
It wasn’t the first time this big Italian family gathered for one of Trippi’s milestone birthdays. They were at the same Friendship House for Trippi’s 100th and 101st birthdays. Last year, they threw a party at Bob Evans Restaurant.
This year, some partygoers, including Savage, were also invited for lunch at the Trippi home prepared by her youngest daughter, Arlene Vincent, who also is Trippi’s chief caregiver. The two share a residence near Elmwood Avenue and Amherst Street.
“She gets up anywhere from 10:30 to 11 a.m., and I gave her breakfast,” said Vincent. “I dress her, and she sits on the porch.”
Vincent’s conversation was interrupted by Angela Filippone, a lifelong friend of Trippi’s.
“You do know about Carmela Trippi, that she was the president of one of the clubs and she knew the Kennedys? She worked on his campaign,” said Filippone. “Carmela and I were Democratic club presidents for over 50 years. We helped political candidates seek office – Bobby Kennedy, Hubert Humphrey, Gene Fahey, Joey Golombek.”
It was time to seek an audience with the birthday girl. Filippone broke through the lines easily.
“I went door-to-door getting signatures for candidates well into my 90s,” began the woman, who at the age of 99 was an active Democratic committee member. “Until I had a stroke and that was it.”
Trippi’s eyes shone steel blue. The fact that she could not see whom she was talking to did not seem to deter her.
“If anyone wanted to run for public office they came to me,” she said, beaming.
“Her endorsement was golden,” Filippone said.