A World War II veteran from California who directed the Nuremberg Opera — hosting the likes of Mickey Rooney and Bob Hope — turned 103 last month. Now, he's sharing his tips for a fulfilling life — which includes good food, good wine, and a wonderful wife.
“I’m Italian, so pasta is the first thing that comes to mind,” Sam Avolicino of Danville told Fox News Digital.
“I've been enjoying my mother's cooking for a long time. As a child, I grew up with good homemade pasta and the Italian custom was to drink a little wine with water because it's good for the blood. So maybe it's an excuse, but it's OK.”
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Avolicino also credits his “wonderful wife” Agnes, to whom he has been married for almost 72 years, for his long and adventurous life.
“The best thing about my life is that I was able to stay married for 72 years to my same wife,” Avolicino said.
Agnes Avolicino was at her husband's side as he accepted the key to the city of Danville on his 103rd birthday.
“The mayor of Danville came with another gentleman to celebrate my 103rd birthday and to celebrate Veterans Day because I served in World War II,” Avolicino said.
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“They presented me with the key to the city of Danville. That was great, great.”
Born in Santa Maria in the Calabria region of southern Italy in 1920, Avolicino immigrated to the United States via Ellis Island when he was just three months old.
He and his mother landed in New York and took a train to Oakland, California, where they joined his father and some other family members who already lived there.
Avolino grew up in the Bay Area. He has lived there for over 100 years.
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“I liked school and I was very lucky,” Avolicino said. “I became class president and a shout leader.”
Avolicino said that during the war he volunteered in the Army Air Force.
He was a physical training instructor and trained troops while in St. Petersburg, Florida.
“My commander wanted to find a person who could lead a shouting match,” Avolicino said.
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“Every day we trained and did exercises. And I taught them some screams and some songs and stuff like that.”
After attending Miami Physical Training School, Avolicino was transferred to Fresno, Calif., then Glendale, Calif., and finally Fort Dix, where he prepared to go overseas, he said.
“I landed in France the day before the end of the war,” he added.
“So I was transferred to the special services and my CEO assigned me to the Nuremberg Opera (Nürnberg) to entertain the troops while we waited to be sent home.”
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During his time at Germany's opera house, which had been taken over by the Americas at the end of the war, Avolicino helped host American artists such as Bob Hope, Jack Benny, Mickey Rooney and the Rockettes – all of whom flew across the world to perform for the troops.
“It was very emotional,” Avocino said. “Bob Hope and these people had their entourage and I just stayed with them. I directed them and showed them where to go and so on.”
Avocino said that Germans had access to opera one day a week, while continuing to perform their own operas and ballets.
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“I arranged with the Germans that there would be theater on Wednesday afternoons to show anything they wanted. Then they would show the same thing to the soldiers if they wanted to see the opera or the ballet and things like that.”
Avocino even organized the first Christmas service at the opera house, which took place in 1945, while many soldiers were still waiting to return home.
Avocino met his fiancée, Agnes, when he was in Glendale before he was sent to Fort Dix to travel overseas.
“I met her family, this beautiful family, at a party and went to mass,” said Avolicino. “They asked me to come after mass and I did. From then on there was a relationship with the family and that's where I met my wife. We kept in touch throughout this time.”
Avolino admits that it was his wife who wrote the letters and kept the relationship alive while he was abroad.
He kept his love letters and keeps them to this day.
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He continued to keep in touch with her while traveling.
He opened a parts supply business with a friend, which took him to Okinawa, an island off Japan. After a year of traveling abroad, he returned to California and proposed to Agnes.
“And we’ve been in the Bay Area our whole lives,” he said.
The Avolicinos have four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. One of his sons, Steve Avolicino, said that although his father traveled a lot, he was always a big family man.
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“He covered 11 Western states traveling to a major car, truck and trailer parts department,” Steve Avolicino told Fox News Digital.
“He was gone every other week, but he still found time to coach baseball,” his son said.
“He also worked from home and I had the advantage of listening to him on the phone and seeing how he interacted with people. Later in my professional life I was able to emulate the man he was – and that has always been very useful in my life.”
Whether coaching or working with the church, Avolicino always made time for his family and others – and truly loved doing it all.
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“He just loves life and he loves living,” John Avolicino told Fox News Digital.
“That's always stood out to me. He enjoys every day. At the moment he's in three different football groups and he's on the computer all the time. His new thing now is that he makes his own [greeting] cards with your own words.”
Avolicino's advice for younger generations is to focus on family and faith.
“I recommend that all children cling to God, start believing in the afterlife and go to church,” he said.
“Pray every night,” Avolicino added.
“God has been the most important person in my life. Respect your parents and listen to them. Don't let outside influences affect you, which is very difficult today.”
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