Americus Times-Recorder, Americus, Georgia

Local News

April 7, 2012

100 years of wonder

AMERICUS — Bella Castello has seen and done many things in her life that most could only dream of and to add to that list, she celebrated her 100th birthday in March.

Castello’s family and friends gathered at St. Mary’s Church Hall for a “celebration of life”  last month. At the event Castello, her five grand children and five great- grand children, were all together for the first time. In addition, family and friends shared their birthday wishes and were treated to interesting stories from Castello’s century of adventure that started in Fall River, Mass. in 1912.

A first generation American, Castello’s parents were Portuguese immigrants in a community that could only be described as a melting pot of new America with distinct cultures coming together to create something all its own. Irish, French Ukrainian, Hungarian and Portuguese were among the many influences represented.

The community of Fall River  was also tied to the South as it was a former cotton mill town, as she and daughter Carolyn Campbell explained in a recent interview. Fall River textile operations processed southern grown cotton. Castello, one of seven children, was a young child in those years. Her father worked in a textile mill and was a money-wise entrepreneur, and her mother  worked in a hat factory.

Considering the milestone of 100 years, Castello is amazed at her experiences.

During her childhood, Fall River was a growing city, with lots of activity as horse carried buggies rambled in the streets. At 20, she married a “Navy man,” gunnery officer Carl Finell, who was of Swedish decent. The newlyweds embarked on the nomadic journey that comes with military life, traveling and living in various areas of the U.S., including Philadelphia, Hawaii (twice), California, Maryland and Wisconsin.

Castello recalls living in pre World War II Hawaii with great fondness. She describes the islands as being much different than it was thirty years later when she moved back. It was there, she learned to hula.

“I love Hawaii. It was very nice. It was very primitive when I went there, you know it was 1938,” she said.

Before having children of her own, she was god mother to children of Hawaiian royalty, descendants of King Kamehameha. Campbell opened a photo album, displaying pictures of her mother in grass hula skirts.

In Honolulu, she also learned to paint, first on glass surfaces and then she tinted photos, reviving black and white photos with delicate coloration. During her years in Hawaii, Castello recalls a visit back to the north east. On her return trip back to the Naval base in Hawaii, she went by ship. She traveled from New York, along the east coast, all the way down to central America and passed through the Panama Canal toward the Pacific.

From Hawaii, the young couple moved to Connecticut, anticipating the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941. Campbell said her father knew that the “war was coming” and Pearl Harbor would be hit. He put in for a transfer to the submarine base in New London, Connecticut.

From there, the young couple, now with a young family in tow, moved to California. “Before Carolyn was born, I worked at the beach,” Castello said proudly. In Long Beach, Calif., Castello befriended carnival workers and landed a job running a shooting gallery. The five foot-two young woman would challenge soldiers to test their skills at the gallery, using real guns. She said She often outshot them.

Lake Nabagamon, near Duluth, Wisconsin was the family’s next home and then Castello returned to live in Fall River, Mass. In 1958 following Carl’s death. In 1973, she married Selvlno Castello, a labor union agent, and like his new wife, was of Portuguese descent. The Castellos lived in Brooklyn, N.Y.  for a while and Bella even found herself in California again. Recalling a tour of some Hollywood studios, she said she was mistaken for Portuguese-born Brazilian samba singer, Carmen Miranda.

Living such an interesting life and seeing so many places and things has naturally won the admiration of her friends and family who listen intently to her countless stories. Of her travels, Castello said it is hard to believe she went so many places, but contends “it was much easier then than it is today.”

“When I look back, I think ‘did I actually do all that?,” Castello said with wonder.

Family members attending Bella Castello’s 110th birthday celebration on March 10 were Nicole Vaughan and her husband Jamey, of Senoia with their two children Rachel and Brookins; Matthew Wenner and Rebecca Cotton, of Americus and their two children Cass and Benson; Emily Kirkpatrick and her husband Kirk, of Boca Raton, Fla. and their daughter Carly; Christopher Campbell, of Atlanta; Brian Campbell, of Atlanta with Dawn Perlongo and Castello’s stepdaughter, Geraldine Messier and husband Leo, of Mt. Juliet, Tenn.

Castello has lived in Americus with David and Carolyn Campbell since 2003.

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