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Joan Esposito’s life has been full, but it hasn’t always been easy.

At age 101, Esposito is seeing the second pandemic of her lifetime. The first, the Spanish flu pandemic, claimed the life of her father just weeks before she was born in January 1919.

“A lot of the things that people read about in history books, I lived through them,” said Esposito, who has lived at Summit of Uptown for nearly two years.

The centenarian was born in Chicago less than a month after her father’s death, which left her mother widowed with four children at age 22. Her mother took a job at Sawyer Biscuit Co., to support the family because there was no government assistance and no family members living nearby to help, Esposito recalled.

“We were left alone because there was no one to take care of us,” she said. “There were days when we had no food.” 

At the height of the Great Depression, her mother died. Esposito was only 15 years old, and she and her brothers worked to support themselves. They were once evicted because they couldn’t keep up with the rent, and she said they occasionally had to steal food in order to eat.

Esposito married at 20, but her husband couldn’t always find steady work, so she took a job in the records department at the Chicago Police Department, a “very interesting job,” she said

She and her husband had three children. The youngest, a boy, was born with a serious disability, and he spent much of his childhood in a special school in Momence, Ill.

“I used to go there every Saturday and stay ’til Sunday to be with him,” she said.

While she has faced many challenges throughout her long life, Esposito has never lacked determination. 

“I struggled, but I lived,” said the grandmother of three and great grandmother of four. “I can’t believe I survived 100 years.”


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Donna Isbell Walker

About the Author: Donna Isbell Walker

Donna is a former newspaper feature writer and editor whose passion is writing about WWII and Korean War veterans.

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