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Tech savvy cookie lady celebrates 103 years

Margaret Pecoraro, 103, of Cranberry Township, holds her engagement photo from 1943. Paula Grubbs photo

Margaret Pecoraro is an anomaly at the age of 103, as she lives alone in her Cranberry Township apartment without assistance in the tasks of daily life, which includes baking mountains of cookies for various occasions.

Her granddaughter, Dawn Dobbs, also of Cranberry Township, provides any help her grandma might need and regularly takes her shopping and out to eat.

“She is my right arm and my left arm,” Pecoraro said of Dobbs. “She does everything for me and explains things if I don’t understand them.”

Dobbs said her grandmother is visually impaired, but refuses to pursue her hobby of reading biographies via audio book.

Instead, the words on the page are mirrored onto a larger screen so they are easier for Pecoraro to see.

She also reads her mail and other documents using a reading machine, which projects the words onto an even larger screen in her well-appointed dining room.

Pecoraro said over the past year, she read the 14 books in the Mitford Years series by Jan Karon, plus a few other titles.

She easily navigates her smart TV and adds items to her grocery list by talking to her Alexa device. A digital picture frame in her spotless and cozy living room scrolls photos of cherished family and friends on an endless loop.

Pecoraro also uses her iPad to watch cooking shows and the news, and play a few games.

“We do everything we can to keep her in her home,” Dobbs said. “She’s pretty tech savvy.”

Pecoraro, who was born Margaret Randazzo to Sicilian immigrants on Feb. 21, 1921, in the Marshall-Shadeland neighborhood of Pittsburgh, has outlived all six of her siblings.

“I don’t feel 103,” she states emphatically.

Pecoraro recalls her mother trying to feed a family of nine during the bleak years of the Great Depression. Tomatoes from their backyard garden were canned for sauce.

“She could stretch a pound of ground meat,” she said. “We ate a lot of potatoes, pasta and homemade bread.”

Because it was inexpensive to prepare, basic pizza was a staple of the Randazzo family.

“Back then, pizza wasn’t well known,” Pecoraro said. “When someone would ask what we had for lunch, we’d say ‘bread with sauce.’”

Unlike many of her rural counterparts, Pecoraro never had to suffer the indignity of outdoor plumbing during her childhood because the family always lived near Pittsburgh.

“We never had an outhouse,” she said.

Her father was a shoemaker who saved the leather in his shop for his customers and placed a rubber sole in his children’s shoes when they would develop a hole.

But his strict 30-day pickup policy meant sometimes, customers would not retrieve the shoes he had crafted for them. In that instance, they were claimed by anyone in his family who fit into them.

Pecoraro graduated in 1940 from Holy Ghost Academy in Ross Township and began working at a “5 and 10” store in downtown Pittsburgh, which means a department store that sold inexpensive items costing a nickel or dime.

“I started to work at 25 cents an hour,” she said.

At that time, a quarter would buy three trips on the streetcar, Pecoraro recalled.

She also worked at Gimbels Department Store, at the gift shop at the former Iron City Beer plant, and eventually went from volunteering to part-time employment at the Ross Township Senior Center in her later years.

When, as a teenager, she refused a phone call from her neighbor, John Pecoraro, his mother called her the next day to ask “Why you no like my son?”

The pair went to the circus in Pittsburgh for their first date, and tied the knot in 1944.

“We got married on his birthday,” Pecoraro said.

John Pecoraro died in 1989. They had one son, who is deceased.

At Christmastime, Pecoraro continues to crank out a variety of delectable cookies. She baked about 25 dozen last Christmas, and made all the cookies for her 103rd birthday party.

“I cut back some,” she said of her Christmas cookie production.

“That’s a good one,” Dobbs said, chuckling. “She cut back to 25 dozen.”

Pecoraro marches in place each morning before her shower, and recommends staying active to those who ask her secret.

“Sometimes my lady friend will call at 9 or 10 o’clock at night and say ‘I’m going to (Rivers) Casino, do you want to come along? and I’ll say ‘Now?’ but I’ll go with her,” she said.

Margaret Pecoraro, 103, graduated in 1940 from Holy Ghost Academy in Ross Township, Allegheny County. Submitted photo

She also volunteered for Meals on Wheels for 32 years and enjoyed line dancing.

“I was happy with my life the way it was,” Pecoraro said of looking back over her 103 years. “I didn’t blame anyone for not having new shoes. It was a way of life.”

She also credits Dobbs’ two children, Isabel, 23, and Dalhart, 21, with her longevity.

“They kept me moving when they were little,” said Pecoraro, who remains close to the young adults today.

As for advice for young people, she recommends getting a good education and staying active.

“I never sat still,” she said. “I’m always on the go.”

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