For this week’s installment of “Faces of New Canaan” we met up with our first subject nominated for the series by a Patch reader: Dante Chicatell.
The popular, official greeter at the New Canaan Y, Dante will turn 100 on Nov. 24. Several interesting facts of Dante’s life emerged during our conversation—how he met his wife, for example, and his occupation during World War II.
Perhaps even more interesting were Dante’s responses to seemingly innocent questions such as “What’s your secret [to long life]?” and “What’s the one thing you’d want most for your 100th birthday?”
While we talked, several Y members passing by said hello or smiled and nodded at Dante, and the staff at the counter just on the other side of the main entryway there listened to what he had to say.
Here’s a transcript of our conversation:
New Canaan Patch: Where were you born?
What’s your birthday?
(Laughs.) 11/24/13. Can I take this off? (Points to hat—more on that below.)
Yes, I’m 99.
OK, so the first question I have for you is: What’s your secret?
I wished I knew. Good living, hard work, smoking cigars and drinking.
(Here the Y Director of Marketing Kristina Barrett—who was kind enough to set up the interview—laughs out loud and says with a smile: “Dante that’s not what the Y is all about!”)
Where do you live?
I live in Darien.
How long have you worked here?
I’ve worked here, what is it, 13 years.
How long have you lived in Darien?
Since 1955. I grew up in Stamford, played sports in Stamford.
Stamford High School?
Yes, football and basketball.
What year did you graduate?
Stamford High School ’33.
What did you do for work after graduation?
I worked at Pitney Bowes.
So you had already turned, what, 28 by Pearl Harbor Day? What did you do during World War II?
They [Pitney Bowes] got me a deferment because I was working on war work.
What were you doing specifically?
Making little computers for the bomb sites.
Talk to me about how this area has changed most since the time you grew up here.
Well Stamford has changed from a small little town to a big city.
What about New Canaan?
I don’t know much about New Canaan.
OK, that’s going to be tough for me with this series. You need to give me something. What can you say about the people you meet here at the Y?
Some are sociable and some are unsociable.
OK. What brought you to start working here?
I took the job for a temporary job and then I liked it so much, meeting people here, that here I am 13 years later.
(Kristina: “Dante welcomes our members. He sits at our check-in desk. He checks people in, says hello, makes them feel welcome to the Y. He gives high-fives to the kids as they walk by and every holiday he decorates a new hat.”)
Thanks. So what’s your favorite holiday?
Tell me about your family. Do you have kids?
I had two girls, Patricia and Sandra Lee.
Are they still with you?
Yup. One in New Jersey and one in Stamford.
How often do you see them?
Quite often. I see Sandra maybe every other day. Patricia I see occasionally in New Jersey.
Which part of Darien do you live in?
Same place since 1955?
Same place, yes.
Did you do any college after high school or go straight to work?
I had one year of college at St. Viator in Illinois.
What happened at St. Viator?
Well, it was too far away to travel back and forth. I had a scholarship.
What was the scholarship for, basketball or football?
Both. I made the basketball team, was on the squad and got kicked off because I came home for the holiday and they were playing games and the coach wanted me to stay but I told him, ‘No way, I’m going home.’
Then you went to work for Pitney Bowes?
And how long were you there?
’37 to ’47.
I went into business with my brother. The gasoline business, gas and fuel oil.
What was it called?
Chicks' Service Station, Chicks' Oil Company.
Where was that?
Belden Street [in Stamford], down by Pitney Bowes.
And you did that for the rest of your career?
Until I retired in 1985, yes.
Tell me more about the people you meet here at the Y.
Some are happy, some are very sad. I try to get them to smile. I have a conversation with them, to joke with them. Bring them to life.
You know any clean Irish jokes for St. Patrick’s Day?
What about New Canaan as a town. You must go into town sometimes.
Very, very nice, clean town.
(Kristina: “What’s your favorite part about checking people in, Dante?”)
Oh, enjoying the children as they come in.
What’s your philosophy on life?
Well, be happy. Enjoy life. Enjoy working, work hard and enjoy socializing. You better leave the drinking part out.
When were you married?
July 26, 1941.
What’s your wife’s name?
How did you meet?
On a blind date.
Really. Where did you go?
We went to the 19th Hole in Greenwich.
Where was that?
Greenwich Avenue, I think.
Love at first sight?
Well, no. Not first sight. About the second or third time, then it got serious.
Is your wife with you?
No. I would have been married 62 years.
Any special birthday wish for this year?
Well, I wished I could have traveled to Egypt. That’s my wish. I don’t know why.