Point Loma resident celebrates 101 years
Published - 03/26/21 - 07:05 AM | 4760 views | 1 1 comments | 15 15 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Elisa ‘Tia Elisa’ Mendes celebrates her 101st birthday with her great niece Bernie Virissimo. COURTESY PHOTO
Elisa ‘Tia Elisa’ Mendes celebrates her 101st birthday with her great niece Bernie Virissimo. COURTESY PHOTO
The stucco home on Rosecrans Street in Point Loma is well known for its longstanding sun bleached-white shell garden out front.

But now it’s noteworthy for another reason: One of its longstanding tenants, Elisa “Tia Elisa” Mendes, just turned 101 years old on March 23.

Asked the key to her longevity, Tia Elisa replied, “The secret is I’ve worked all my life and taken care of myself and lived right. I never drank or smoked.”

“When she came to San Diego she got a job in the canneries,” said her son Danny. “She came from the island of Madeira crossing over in 1939. She spent nine years in Rhode Island. At night there she worked in a factory making uniforms for soldiers during World War II. She came to San Diego in 1948 because she was told this was a place for opportunity, and because there was an active Portuguese community here.”

Becoming a centenarian is truly rare but is an increasingly reachable milestone. Thanks to improved medicine, better diet, and healthier living, humans’ longevity has gradually increased over time. Today, roughly one person in every 6,000 reach their 100th birthday – 0.0173 percent. Fifty years ago, only one person in every 67,000 reached the century mark.

Tia Elisa’s husband, Frank, was a tuna fisherman. So was Danny, who became a tuna fisherman in the South Pacific, like his dad, at age 16.

Tia Elisa retired from the tuna cannery at age 62. Danny said his mom, a Roman Catholic who has attended St Agnes Church at 1140 Evergreen St., traveled a lot after retiring.

“She’s been to Russia, China, Germany, and France,” Danny said.

Asked which foreign country she liked the most, Tia Elisa said, “My favorite country is my home, Portugal. I was born there. Of course, I love this country too. I went there (Portugal) four or five times with my husband back and forth. I went from Lisbon to Italy and Italy to France.”

Of their shell garden, Danny said it’s composed of shells brought back by his dad from the Galapagos Islands during his commercial fishing trips. “It was my dad’s project. We still get people commenting on it, and it’s been featured in magazines and in a story in the Peninsula Beacon in 2013.”

Added Danny: “I had one guy from Los Angeles who told me if we ever wanted to get rid of it (shells), that he’d lift the whole thing up, transport it back to LA and preserve it, and maybe put it in a museum. But I didn’t want to do that because it would have been a mess and I didn’t want to put grass there.”

Queried about what she likes most about Point Loma, the 101-year-old said, “I like it because of my own people. I get along with them.”

“There’s a Portuguese network here,” added Danny.

His mom also likes participating in the annual Festa do Espirito Santo celebration held annually at United Portugal S.E.S Hall in Roseville. It was at one of those Festas in her late 20s when Elisa met her future husband.

Would Elisa Mendes like to live another 10 years?

“No,” she replied. “To live to be that old – you go through a lot.”
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Robert Burns
March 27, 2021
Thank you. I had no idea that we had 1st-generation Portuguese here; I have met a lot of Portuguese speakers here always from elsewhere.
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