106-year-old woman survives Spanish Flu in 1918 and COVID-19 in 2020, celebrates birthday

NORWOOD, Mass. — A Norwood nursing home resident who survived both the Spanish Flu in 1918 and coronavirus last spring celebrated her 106th birthday Monday.

“Happy birthday? One-hundred-six years old? What’s happy about that?” an animated Rose Grossi joked in the courtyard of Ellis Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. “Can you imagine anybody living this long?”

Staff organized a special dinner for Grossi Monday and sang Happy Birthday to her as she beamed before her cake.

Last spring, as nursing homes across the state were devastated by COVID-19 cases and deaths, Grossi tested positive for the virus and spent her recovery in isolation. The facility has not had a coronavirus case since May.

“She did have symptoms of COVID in the outbreak in March and April,” said Tony Franchi, Jr., administrator of Ellis Nursing and Rehabilitation Center. “She fought through it, and it’s a testament to her being 106 years old. You can see she still has a great attitude.”

Grossi was born in the Azores Islands of Portugal on Aug. 24, 1914. As a child, she contracted and survived the Spanish Flu of 1918.

When she was six years old, she came to America with her mother and sister. She would later meet the love of her life, Emilio James “Jim” Grossi, whom she wed in 1933.

Jim joined the Army in 1941 as World War II was beginning. The couple had two young children at the time; they would later welcome their third.

“I was getting 100 dollars a month from the government, and I had two small children. So I went to work,” Grossi said. “My little boy, I put him in day school. He said, ‘Mommy, I’m going to the window and wave to you.’ I always remember that.’

Over the years, Grossi would endure heartache, including the deaths of her husband and her daughter Marie.

“She’s so beautiful,” Grossi said, admiring a framed photograph of her daughter. “She was my first born, my oldest daughter. She died three years ago. I still feel the pain in my heart… It’s terrible to lose a child. She was a woman, but she was my child.”

Despite the grief and the challenges Grossi has endured, she is upbeat and positive, entertaining her caretakers and showcasing her sharp memory as she recites her favorite Shakespeare passages.

“She had the will to persevere through another challenge in her life,” Franchi said of Grossi’s beating COVID-19. “She’s said it was god’s will she’s still here. And I think that sort of sums it up.”

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