Almost too busy to turn 100 Birthday: Salvatore Gugilizza celebrated his centennial yesterday at a Sykesville hospital. Known as Sammy, he paused from his daily routine and chores to enjoy the fuss.

June 24, 1996|By Jackie Powder | Jackie Powder,SUN STAFF

He spends his days collecting soda cans and picking up trash at Springfield Hospital Center, rarely stopping for a break. But on the occasion of his 100th birthday, Salvatore Gugilizza -- the oldest patient at the state psychiatric hospital in Sykesville -- decided to take the afternoon off.

Surrounded by family, fellow patients and hospital staff, Gugilizza, known to everyone at Springfield as Sammy, celebrated his centennial yesterday at the hospital that he has called home for the past 67 years.

He was admitted to Springfield on May 10, 1929, a 32-year-old Italian immigrant with a diagnosis of dementia praecox, a term for schizophrenia.

Despite having been institutionalized for nearly 70 years, Gugilizza has carved out an identity within the confines of Springfield. For decades, his routine hasn't varied -- he does his chores, goes to Mass every Sunday and saves rolls from his dinner to feed the birds.

"From the time he gets up until midday, he's constantly on the go, and I think it contributes to his health and well-being," said Reggie Winfrey, a hospital administrator, after watching Gugilizza blow out his birthday cake candles.

Gugilizza is known by just about everybody in the Springfield community, from the hospital superintendent to the housekeeping staff. He speaks English with a heavy Italian accent in disjointed sentences and reads and writes English. Except for a hearing problem, he is in good health and appears to be happy leading a simple, structured life.

"He helps people out, he jokes with the nurses, he reads the paper," said Dr. Marcio V. Pinheiro, a staff psychiatrist. "It's really remarkable how he's made a place in the world for himself."

Details about Gugilizza's background before he arrived at Springfield are vague. Family members say he came to this country from Sicily in 1916 and began suffering from mental problems in his 20s. He displayed compulsive behaviors -- such as spinning for hours in one place -- and suffered from severe paranoia, sometimes threatening pedestrians.

His illness progressed to the point that he could no longer live with his sister's family in their rowhouse at Sharp and Camden streets in South Baltimore, said Gugilizza's nephew, Joseph G. Vinci, 77, who has visited his uncle every other Sunday at Springfield for more than 60 years.

"My mother [Gugilizza's sister] told me, 'Whatever you do, don't forget your uncle,' " said Vinci yesterday at Gugilizza's party.

Dressed in a red flannel shirt, khaki pants, a sweater and a baseball cap with "100" on the front, Gugilizza graciously accepted birthday wishes yesterday from about 50 guests, including Springfield's chaplain, the hospital's rehabilitation director, nurses and patients.

The common room at Freedom House -- Gugilizza's Springfield residence -- was decorated with streamers, pictures of him and "Happy 50th" balloons because the nurses couldn't find any that commemorated 100 years.

Patients at Freedom House spent much of yesterday sprucing up the residence for the party, and they chipped in for refreshments.

During the celebration, Gugilizza jumped up from his chair and broke into his trademark dance in the middle of the room.

Though he enjoyed the fuss over his birthday, Gugilizza doesn't like to be reminded of his age.

"I told him how old he was when he was about 85 or 90, and he didn't want to hear it," said Vinci. "He thinks he's still a young man.

"If my mother could only see him now."

Pub Date: 6/24/96

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