ST. CLAIR SHORES — In October 1911, Ty Cobb was named one of the first baseball MVPs, the first public elevator was installed in London and Orville Wright stayed aloft for nine minutes and 45 seconds in an air glider.
That same month, on October 23, 1911, Josephine DiMaggio was born.
Raised by her grandmother and aunts in Detroit after her mother died when she was just 11 months old, she learned meticulous cleaning skills and helped keep the house when relatives from Italy would come to Michigan in search of a new home.
“I remember when we had a boarder and I was just a kid and he said to my dad, ‘I want to marry your daughter,’ and he said, ‘She’s just a baby yet,’” she said. “They’d come from Italy and, being relatives, we kind of had the duty to take care of them until they found a home.”
She did get married at the age of 16, to 21-year-old Henry Matranga. They had four children together — Rose, Larry, Joe and Henry — and moved to St. Clair Shores in 1955, building a home in a new neighborhood near 13 Mile and Harper, said her son, also named Henry Matranga, of Grosse Pointe Farms.
“We were one of the first to move in in this new subdivision,” he remembered. “Thirteen Mile, they had two ditches on either side, it was a gravel road. St. Clair Shores was still developing.”
Now, Josephine McKenney, still lives in the same home where she has resided for 60 years, and on Oct. 23, she will celebrate her 104th birthday.
“I was really lucky. I feel good, thankful I’m still living and enjoying my children and my grandchildren,” she said a few weeks before her birthday. “I’ve always had good health, thank God, and been happy with my life, even though I lost my husband, but life goes on.”
Josephine now also has 12 grandchildren, 18 great-grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren.
“She has been a pioneer,” said her son, Henry. “She’s a charter member of St. Margaret’s Church.”
When her husband died, Josephine decided to enter the workforce.
“He had a heart attack and my mom was 50 years old,” her son Henry said. “She, at that time, went and became employed for the first time — went to St. John Hospital and worked in the nursery as a nurse’s aide for 15 years,” he said. “So at the age of 50, it was almost like the start of a new life.”
“I loved the babies, I enjoyed them very much,” Josephine said. “I had some happy days at St. John’s with the babies.”
Josephine then met Jim McKenney, a retired Army sergeant who was also working at the hospital. They were married for 14 years before he died.
Josephine has always enjoyed walking, at times making a daily trek with her dog from her home all the way down to the 40th District Courthouse on 11 Mile Road and back.
Daughter Rose Sherrard, of Harrison Township, said she remembers when her mother finally purchased her first car, a 1990 Oldsmobile.
“You were so proud (and said) I saved and I could get” a car, Sherrard said.
Josephine had heart surgery when she was 80 but was able to live on her own — cutting her own grass and shoveling her own snow into her 90s — until just this June, when she fell and broke her hip.
Amazing all of her doctors, however, 103-year-old Josephine is back living in her own home with help from her children and a caregiver, and getting around with the help of a walker.
Josephine said she thinks the community has gotten safer over the years, something she really appreciates.
“You have more confidence in walking out at night,” she said. “It used to be terrible for awhile. I worked at the hospital for 15 years,” and used to walk home from the bus stop on Jefferson Avenue. “Somebody was always bothering you, you couldn’t walk all by yourself.”
Now, she said, she’s looking forward to “just taking it easy and enjoying my children and my grandchildren.”
“I thank the good lord for having me still here and enjoying my family,” she said.