CRETE | Nineteen presidents. Two world wars. Eleven constitutional amendments. The Model T and the electric car.
Cosmo Merlini has seen quite a bit in his time.
The Crete resident celebrated his 106th birthday among friends and family Thursday at Village Woods Retirement Living.
"The Lord up there, he's watching me and I guess he told me, 'Be careful,'" Merlini said. "I'm careful and I'm happy."
Village Woods decorated its banquet halls with red, white and blue balloons and pictures of Merlini. On the walls were newspaper clippings from the day he was born, the prices of items like milk (32 cents) and stamps (2 cents), and historical events from 1908.
Singer Steve Justman provided music and led the room in a rendition of "Happy Birthday." Village President Michael Einhorn was there to celebrate Crete's oldest resident.
Merlini is actually one of a handful of centenarians at Village Woods.
"Whatever you're doing, you 100-plus folks, you need to figure it out and tell the rest of us," Einhorn said.
Merlini was born in Chicago Heights in 1908. He attended Franklin School until seventh grade, when he went to work at a shop that made handles for hammers, drawers and anything else that people needed to grab.
When the handle shop closed three years later, Merlini worked as a caddy at Olympia Fields Country Club, often walking the five miles to and from the course. He then worked as as an apprentice in the upholstery department of a furniture store. He learned everything he could about the job and eventually started a business, Built Right Furniture.
"You've got to learn (upholstery) yourself; no one can teach you," he said. "Once you got the knack of it, you were OK."
Merlini ran Built Right until moving to Village Woods in 2007, closing the store temporarily when he was drafted into the Army for World War II.
Merlini married Dinah Falcioni after the war and they had a daughter, Genevieve.
"Everything seems like it comes kind of easy, but sometimes it isn't easy," Merlini said. "Nothing good's easy, but once you learn something, things will come."