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At 90, this dad still shows plenty of pep in his step



Published: Sun, June 16, 2002 @ 12:00 a.m.



The Boardman father of two, grandfather of four and great-grandfather of two puts his dancing skills to good use.

By KATIE-NELL SCANLON

VINDICATOR STAFF WRITER

BOARDMAN -- His aqua golf shirt is left coolly unbuttoned at the top, and his silver hair is slicked neatly into place. He stands straight and confident, holding a photo album and an envelope of pictures and clippings, eager to share stories from his life.

Herman Canacci turns 90 today, but you'd never know it.

"I can't even keep up with him," said daughter Carmel Baughman of Boardman, who tries to juggle her father's busy schedule.

He manages to keep away aches and pains without a pill. Besides using a few herbal supplements and vitamins such as royal jelly, zinc, and B-15, Canacci engages in lots of activity and exercise. He proudly acknowledges visiting the doctor only once a year to have his blood checked.

"I've always been real healthy," he said, attributing his good health to many years of hard work.

First job

Born and reared on Youngstown's East Side, Canacci got his first job at 14, sweeping the floor of a barbershop for $5 a week.

"All my friends used to say, 'How about lending me a dollar?'" Canacci said, laughing. "I always had a couple dollars in my pocket."

When it came to his children, Canacci's hard work paid off.

Baughman recalled a memory of her father almost 55 years ago. Her mother refused to buy her an $8 sundress from Abraham's clothing store downtown. When she came home and told her father, he bought her two of them.

"My mother almost killed him," Baughman said.

Aside from working a steady job, Canacci was always earning some extra money on the side. He performed odd jobs such as cutting grass, wallpapering and shoe shining.

His hard work landed him a job at Republic Steel Corp., Electric Weld No. 1 in Youngstown, where he labored 43 years. Canacci worked his way up to head welder at the plant before retiring at age 63. In his younger days, he served as a 2nd Ward precinct committeeman in Youngstown and ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic candidate for president of council in 1951.

Dancing shoes

Canacci's eyes light up when he talks about dancing.

"My father owned an accordion, and I learned how to do the polka and the Charleston," he said. "Now I can do everything."

He recalls dancing in the Idora Park ballroom in Youngstown, where he met his wife, Victoria. They were married 59 years when she died.

Canacci is now part of "The Golden Age Follies," a group of senior citizens who put their singing and dancing skills to work performing around the area, and the Park Vista Chuckwagon Square and Line Dancing Group, which dances at nursing homes and hospitals. He became a participant almost a decade ago, after his wife died.

"That's when he started getting involved in different things," said Baughman.

Mary Catley, director of the Follies, described Canacci, one of her star performers, as "a real ladies man."

"Herman is so active and has so much charisma," Catley said of the oldest member of the group. The average age is about 75.

Time for others

Although he's a hit on the dance floor, Canacci's involvement in the community is his claim to fame.

"I always wanted to do anything to help the poor," Canacci said, thinking back. "I do lots of charity work."

He devotes two to four days a week volunteering to feed the poor. He served as the first president of the St. Vincent de Paul Society and received a Vincentian Dedication award for 50 years of Christian service to the poor.

Canacci also received numerous achievement awards for his lifetime of service to the Youngstown area.

He was recognized by the District XI Area Agency on Aging Inc. as Outstanding Senior Citizen in 1995. The AARP honored him with a plaque for Outstanding Service to the Community in April 2001. The Poland Chapter of the AARP also granted Canacci a Certificate of Excellence in April 2001.

How does he respond to the attention?

"I always ask, 'Why did you pick me?'" he said, shaking his head. "There are lots of other people."

Family life

Aside from all his projects, Canacci sets aside time to keep in touch with his family. His brother, Albert Canacci, and two sisters, Grace Scarsella and Dorothy Lalama, are residents of Boardman.

Grace owns Scarsella Restaurant on Market Street in Boardman, where Herman Canacci helps out however he can.

He also has two children, Tom Canacci and Baughman, four grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and a third great-grandchild on the way.

This 90-year-old said that the secret to good health is no secret at all. His most valuable piece of advice for those clinging to the fountain of youth: "Think young."




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