Donato Panacci: A Day In The Life

But not just any life! Donato Panacci turned 105 years old on Aug. 8. When he turned 100, he planned his own birthday party at the Mandarin restaurant and this year Villa Leonardo Gambin Residence planned a celebration to mark this special day for their oldest resident. What’s his secret to longevity, to living a long and happy life?

First things first: Donato Panacci likes to wake up early every morning. He gets up, makes his bed, then he likes to greet people. “He says buongiorno, good morning, to all the staff at work,” says Nadia Johnson, a PSW at Villa Leonardo Gambin. “It doesn’t matter what’s going on, he’s always happy,” she adds.

If it’s shower day, Panacci washes up (yep, by himself), then gets dressed for breakfast. When he heads to the dining room, he likes to stop by each table to say good morning to the residents and bring everyone up to speed if there’s anything that happened overnight. When Johnson starts her shift, she hears about anything that happened from Panacci himself, “and what he reports is exactly what happens,” says Johnson. Most impressive is the fact that Panacci remembers everyone’s name: “He forgets nothing!”

Perhaps the secret lies with Panacci’s first meal: every morning, he indulges in a boiled egg, two slices of toast, a small cereal with hot milk, a banana and a cup of coffee. After breakfast, he gets ready for morning activities, whether it’s exercise class or a game of bingo. And then lunch is served, typically Italian fare like polenta with a beef sauce, tortellini soup or fish with rice and vegetables. In the afternoons, Panacci likes to chat with his daughter on the phone and perhaps take a nap before dinner.

What else does Panacci like to do? Play cards! As a past president of the Italian Card Club at the Epiphany of our Lord Church for 20 years, Panacci still enjoys this pastime, challenging his fellow residents to games of Scopa, Briscola and Tresette. Donato also loves spending time with his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He enjoys socializing, gardening — and watching his beloved Toronto Maple Leafs play hockey.

After dinner, Panacci may talk to other family members on the phone or hang out in the hallway, talking to other residents. What does he talk about? Well, he’ll often share parts of his life story. Born in the town of Frosinone, near Rome, on Aug. 8, 1917, Panacci was one of eight children. He met and married the love of his life, Teresa, and they had two children.

In search of a better life, Panacci immigrated to Canada, with his family joining him three years later. He worked for the Cascone Sewer Construction Co. for 10 years until an injury forced him to take a job as a maintenance worker in an apartment building in his later years. He likes reminiscing and, as a veteran, he has many stories about his years fighting in WWII as an Italian soldier, where he travelled to Africa, India, England and even spent time as a prisoner of war. When Panacci’s wife passed in 2008, he lived at home for five years, and then decided to move himself to the residence in 2012, where he embraced this stage of his life with his usual zest and vigour.

In fact, the residence introduced The Donato Panacci Resident Ambassador Award in 2017 as an annual award for residents who show respect for the home and for those who live and work there, who are accepting of others’ differences and who are positive, kind and helpful to others. As an ambassador, Panacci likes to support both staff and residents, motivating peers to participate in programs and assisting residents who may need help.

So really, perhaps that’s the secret: community. And Panacci is certainly all about community. Johnson likes to share the story of a new resident who wasn’t all that happy and wasn’t eating. “He told the resident they had to eat the food, which was very good, then called me over to say, ‘I prepared the food for him and it’s very good for him,’ and eventually the newcomer started to eat,” she says. He looks out for all the other residents too. “He tells them, ‘You have to be good. I live so long because I do good and, if you do good, you will live to be 105 like me,’” Johnson laughs. Panacci’s top tip? No sugar!

Asked what she loves most about Panacci, Johnson has a simple answer. “If someone is down, Donato will talk to them and calm them,” she says. “He cares about everybody.” And perhaps that’s the real secret.

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