February 4, 1894–January 9, 1994
By Charlotte Sforzini Arton
Background Life Story
Born on February 4, 1894, in Tofori, Italy, Jenny was the first born of nine children to Leone and Mariana Mancini.
While Jenny was a petite baby with blue eyes, blond ringlets and seemed in perfect health, the ball on the end of her right femur bone never developed. This condition explained the pain in her lower back as she labored to walk with one leg two inches shorter than the other.
While many men in the town of Tofori worked in local factories, Jenny’s father was a carpenter and was able to do the majority of his work from his home. He was, therefore, available to help carry his young daughter up and down the stairs of their two story house and was emotionally supportive as well. Eugenia’s condition was of great concern to her father but physicians in the area gave little encouragement for a change in her prognosis. In time, Leone Mancini contacted a shoemaker who was able to construct a high laced boot that would raise Jenny’s instep. This eased the pressure to her lower back and allowed a more even stride to her walk.
Jenny received only three years of formal education. To have continued on with her studies, she would have had to walk to a school located 20 miles from Tofori. So, instead, at the age of 9, she developed and utilized her skill at working with her hands. For a time, she found work for a wealthy family by monograming personal articles such as tablecloths, napkins and draperies and she also worked in a factory that manufactured linen thread from France.
Jenny said she had a happy and stable childhood. Her family was deeply religious and she was fortunate to have an extended family of aunts and uncles living close by. In fact, next door to Jenny lived “Nona” Mancini, her grandmother on her father’s side. Jenny had a special attachment to her grandmother and in commenting about their strong bond, Jenny would say, “I loved my grandmother. She was everything to me.” On the night of her death, at age 92, Jenny was out with friends. When she returned home, her father met her at the door and told his daughter that it was her grandmother’s wish that she would be able to see Jenny one last time before death would separate them. Her grandmother’s wish was granted.
In growing up, there was little time for idle relaxation, and Jenny learned to be a very hardworking and resourceful young woman. Daily activities included collecting water from a well, making bread from scratch, and washing the clothes by hand, then taking them to a nearby stream to be rinsed off. Evenings we spent mending, ironing, or sewing. Jenny remembered many times when she would stay up until 11:00 pm doing hand work.
By the time she was 17, Jenny had 7 other siblings. Her “papa” was concerned that he would no longer be able to support his growing family as there was a depressed economy in Italy.
At that time, many young men were leaving Tofori to find work in France and Germany while many others were attracted to the prospects of life in America.
Jenny’s father decided to follow in the footsteps of his second cousin and take his two eldest children, Jenny and her brother Ugo, with him to California. It was planned that they would work for two years, save what money they could, then return to Italy. Jenny remembered that she was very excited and looked forward to this adventure.
The voyage to America in 1911 on a French ship called Savoyawas not an easy one. The men and women were separated on the ship and the Mancini family got very ill with motion sickness.
After gliding past the Statue of Liberty and docking on Ellis Island, their troubles were not over. The family was detained when customs officers noted that Eugenia walked with a limp. It was feared that she might be carrying a disease and there was some discussion about deportation. After 3 days, however, Jenny was given a medical clearance and the family was allowed to proceed on their journey by train to California.
The Mancinis arrived in Santa Clara and pondered what to do next. Their final destination was Mountain View but it was late in the afternoon, they could not speak English, and didn’t know how they were going to reach their relatives. As they sat on top of their suitcases looking bewildered, an Italian gentleman came to their aid. He offered to put them up for the night as it would be a four hour ride by horse-drawn carriage from Santa Clara to Mountain View. The Mancini family felt very blessed and would always remember their first night in California.
Papa Mancini, Ugo an Jenny spent the first few weeks getting settled with relatives in Mountain View. Fortunately, each of them found work right away and within 4 weeks they found and rented a house for $7.00 a month.
Processing fruit at a cannery in Sunyvale, it was not long before Jenny became a full time employee which meant that she was entitled to free transportation by horse-drawn buggy from Mountain View to Sunnyvale. Her salary seemed substantial too. Depending on the amount of the harvest and the length of a day’s work, Jennie could earn between $4.00 and $5.00 a day.
Papa Mancini and brother Ugo initially found work by picking prunes then began work for the railroad which involved laying tracks with a pick and shovel in hand. The men’s salary averaged $1.60 per day.
When the summer months came to a close and work at the cannery slowed down with the onset of winter, Jenny found employment for a family by sewing, mending, and cooking for them. It was during this time, her first winter in America, that she met her prospective husband.
It was on the night of her 18th birthday that Jenny met my grandfather, Oreste Sforzini. Oreste was staying at a hotel in Mountain View and learned from the manager that both he and the Mancini family originated from the same province in Italy. Oreste also learned that Mr. Mancini’s daughter was celebrating a birthday so he decided he would drop by and pay his respects. Since the family would surely be celebrating, he brought along his accordion with the intent of serenading the birthday girl. Well, on that particular night, Jenny was feeling rather homesick and didn’t join in the festivities. But the party went on without her and from that night on, Oreste became a frequent visitor at the house.
After courting Jenny for a year, Oreste made his intentions known to “Papa” Mancini that he wanted to marry Jenny. Oreste received instant approval from both Mr. Mancini and brother Ugo. Back in Italy, however, it was a different story. “Mama” Mancini, concerned for her daughter’s welfare, traveled immediately to the city where Oreste was born and contacted the local priest to inquire about the background of the family. Needless to say, Oreste’s family proved to be worthy and he was welcomed into the Mancini family.
Jenny and Oreste were married in 1913 and after their honeymoon to Oakland, they returned to Mountain View and continued to share living quarters with Jenny’s father and brother. This arrangement lasted for two years until it was decided that Mr. Mancini would return to his family in Italy.
“Papa” Mancini had been away from his home country for almost four years and he longed to be reunited with his wife and his six remaining children. Soon after he returned to Italy, news was exchanged from both continents that Mrs. Mancini was expecting her 9th child, and Jenny shared the news that she also was in a “family way.”
In 1916 at the age of 22, Jenny gave birth to my father and for the next several years the family moved about the Bay Area until they settled in Sunnyvale. The home in which they found to rent had the front portion of the house converted into a small market. And so began a grocery business which proved to be very profitable and popular among the neighborhood residence. Since the market was located across the street from a grammar school, it became a popular place for school children to gather and purchase penny candy.
The Sforzini family was very happy during these years. Harry grew up and while attending Fremont High School, he met, fell in love and married the girl of his dreams, my mother.
With the country in the midst of WWII, the Sforzini family became separated for a time when Harry was drafted into the Army. Both father and son agreed that once Harry was discharged, they would become partners in a grocery business. The store would be built on land they had purchased together on the corner of Castro Street and the El Camino.
Unfortunately, Harry would never see his father again. Oreste died one morning in an automobile accident while he was on his way to a produce market.
As a consequence, in 1945, at the age of 41, Jenny became a widow. She remembered that the sense of loss was overpowering especially with her son in the service so far from home. But she was aided by a support system of many family members, friends and her spiritual strength. Her Catholic faith had always been a vital part of her life and it continued to serve as a source of comfort during this difficult time.
After the war, Harry and Carmen built a home in Los Altos not far from Jenny. Eventually a building was constructed in Mountain View and although it has never been a grocery store, Jenny received a monthly income from this property.
In 1958, at the age of 54, Jenny got remarried to a wonderful man, Lorenzo Stefani, and the two bought a home in Mountain View where they lived happily together until his death two years later.
Jenny continued to live in her home where she was surrounded by wonderful and supportive caregivers, neighbors, family and friends. All of this created a feeling of security and well-being for her.
On one visit with her I asked, “What is your secret for living such a long life?”
She responded, “I’m not sure how I’ve gotten to be so old. I wake up in the morning and the first thing I do is to thank God that I’m alive and that I have my mind that lets me know what I’m doing…l have my religion and am the oldest living person in my family. Most of my brothers and sisters lived into their eighties and nineties and even my mother and father lived past ninety but no one has outlived my years. I love my family. A close family is everything to me.”
My grandmother was looking forward to celebrating her 100th birthday as we all were.
I will remember and be thankful for the wonderful Thanksgiving and Christmas that we spent together and I’d like to share an incident that occurred at my father’s home over the holidays. After eating a big turkey feast, Jenny opened up several Christmas gifts. I remember that she took such delight in each package. She was like a young child experiencing Christmas for the first time. When she had finished with her gifts, I asked her if I could serve her some dessert and coffee. It is her response that I will remember and cherish. She answered, “Dessert? Oh, no. I’m so filled with joy, I couldn’t eat another thing.”