Mary R. Terzi dies at age 104

Centenarian's popular salad was a weekly staple for more than two decades at Sons of Italy meetings

September 14, 2010|By Frederick N. Rasmussen, The Baltimore Sun

Mary R. Terzi, whose handmade green salad earned her the nickname of "The Salad Lady" and the undying affection of members of the Little Italy Lodge of the Sons of Italy, died Sept. 8 in her sleep at Future Care in Canton.

She was 104.

Mary Rita Presti was born in Enna, Sicily. She was 6 months old when she and her family boarded the Anchor Line steamer Algeria in Naples for a voyage that would land them at Ellis Island in New York Harbor in the spring of 1907.

After a brief visit to family members in Albany, N.Y., the immigrant family settled in 1908 in Little Italy, where Mrs. Terzi would spend the rest of her life.

Her father worked as a ditch digger, and her mother was a homemaker.

"They lived on Rose Street, Exeter Street and Stiles Street," said a daughter, Patricia Terzi Potter of Fallston.

Mrs. Terzi attended St. Leo's parochial school and city public schools. During the 1930s, she was an office worker for the Migloretta Wine Co. in Little Italy.

From the 1940s until retiring in the early 1970s, Mrs. Terzi was a seamstress at the old Lebow Brothers plant on Oliver Street. "She worked on clothing for a lot of the Hollywood stars, including Bing Crosby," Mrs. Potter said.

Mrs. Terzi, who lived for nearly 80 years in her home in the 1000 block of Stiles St., was a longtime parishioner of St. Leo Roman Catholic Church, where she was an active member of the Sodality and Altar Society.

Mrs. Terzi was an active member of the parish's senior citizen group and every Tuesday went to church to play bingo.

"She was a good woman, very religious, and always prayed to Our Lady of Perpetual Help to help keep her going," Mrs. Potter said.

At St. Leo's, Mrs. Terzi put her excellent cooking skills to work preparing salads and helping prepare the food for spaghetti and ravioli suppers. She also prepared her salad for the feasts of SS. Anthony and Gabriel.

Every Friday, beginning in 1986 and continuing for the next 21 years until breaking a hip in 2007, Mrs. Terzi made the salad for 150 members of the Sons of Italy who gathered for dinner.

"She was 101, when she gave it up," her daughter said. "Now my sister, Charlotte "Shirley" Ciarapica, does it."

What gained her the moniker of "The Salad Lady" was her beautifully dressed greens that were highlighted by her specially prepared dressing.

"It was, of course, always a green salad, with lots of fresh greens. And then she had a special way of making the dressing," Mrs. Potter said.

"She never measured anything. It was vinegar, oil, garlic and Parmesan cheese. Then she'd mix it into the lettuce," she said. "She tried to show me how to do it, but it never tasted like hers."

Sister Mary Catherine Duerr, a member of the Holy Union Sisters, is an old friend.

"Don't ask me how she made it. I'm German and an Italian by immersion," Sister Mary Catherine said with a laugh. "It was her dressing. It was absolutely delicious and made the salad taste so good."

Not only did Mrs. Terzi do a lot of volunteer work, but she also urged her children to do the same.

"She gave us a sense of the value of volunteer work," Mrs. Potter said.

"I remember when the Sons of Little Italy barge sank in the harbor and she helped clean it up after it was raised. She also helped raise funds for them so they could build a new lodge behind St. Leo's Church," she said.

Mrs. Terzi enjoyed a lifetime of good health.

"She had her first surgery when she was 99 for a cancerous nose lesion and then a second time after breaking her hip," Mrs. Potter said. "She attributed her longevity to a Mediterranean diet. She never ate a lot of red meat and, of course, ate a lot of vegetables and salad with olive oil."

"I don't eat a lot of junk," Mrs. Terzi explained to The Baltimore Sun in 2006 as being her secret ingredient for longevity.

She enjoyed a little red wine and an occasional cold beer. She never learned to drive a car and always walked or rode streetcars and buses.

"She smoked until she was 95 and only stopped because the cost of cigarettes became so expensive she didn't want to pay," Mrs. Potter said.

Alert and engaged, Mrs. Terzi still went to her hairdresser once a week.

"She always had striking red hair, and of course it was dyed," said Mrs. Potter.

Mrs. Terzi imparted to her daughters a piece of unalterable advice.

"Never leave home without your lipstick and wearing a girdle," her other daughter, Charlotte "Shirley" Ciarapica of Perry Hall, said with a laugh.

Sister Mary Catherine visited Mrs. Terzi in her home once a week.

"She was a dear, dear lady and just a fun person to visit and be with. She always asked if I had brought the church bulletin and always had a joke or story to tell me," Sister Mary Catherine said.

"I went for a visit one time after she had her nails done and I admired them. She said, 'Now, I'm going to look for a boyfriend.' She was 103 at the time," Sister Mary Catherine said.

Her husband of 44 years, Charles Joseph Terzi Sr., a lithographer, died in 1975.

After her husband's death, she enjoyed traveling and taking cruises.

"She never got angry or upset with anyone. She loved everyone and was a good person," Mrs. Potter said.

A Mass of Christian burial was offered Monday at St. Leo's.

Also surviving is a son, Charles Joseph Terzi Jr. of Little Italy; 10 grandchildren, 19 great-grandchildren and six great-great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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