When Sal Rossi retired and moved to Florida, he expected quiet sunrises and peaceful afternoons in his condominium community.
And that's exactly what he got. But soon enough, he realized a slow-paced lifestyle wasn't for him. So at age 67, Sal found a weekend job as a doorman and security guard at Tower Vallencay on Ibis Isle in Palm Beach.
That was 32 years ago.
Sal turned 99 on May 12. Today, he continues greeting Vallencay residents and securing the 22-unit building from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.
"He is just wonderful and loved by everyone in the building," 23-year Vallencay resident Jean Waterman says.
For Sal, working at Vallencay is like being part of the family. He's been part of anniversaries, birthdays and a few funerals through the years. The residents are so fond of Sal that they organized a wonderful retirement gift two years ago, when a new security company took over and wanted to replace the Vallencay staff.
But Sal wasn't ready to retire.
"He called me and said, 'I don't want to retire, I want to work until I'm 100,'" says Waterman, who helped organize the impromptu retirement fund. The residents signed a petition stating they refused to let Sal leave and the new security company agreed to hire him as their weekend guard.
Besides, Sal is no ordinary 99-year-old. He doesn't need glasses, he doesn't use a cane and he still drives around town. (He's got two more years before his license will require renewal.)
About a dozen years ago, Sal's wife, Rhea, lost her vision, so Sal took over all the household chores, the cooking and grocery
Rhea, who's been married to Sal 78 years, suggested an assisted-living facility so that Sal didn't have to work so hard, said their daughter-in-law, Ruth.
But Sal said there were too many old people in places like that.
And that just isn't him.
"He thinks he's Peter Pan," says Ruth, a Boynton Beach resident, who married Sal's son Michael 54 years ago.
Staying young and working hard is a way of life for Sal.
Growing up in East Harlem, he got a job as soon as he was old enough, which turned out to be 14. That way he avoided the mayhem just outside his doorsteps.
"East Harlem was like the Wild West," he says," and I was in the middle of it."
Since then, he's never really stopped working. Throughout the decades, he's been a typist, a telegraph deliverer, a drugstore worker and for 32 years, a printing press foreman. During World War II, he also worked as an air raid warden, patrolling his neighborhood to make sure no lights were on after dark.
"Sal couldn't stand being idle," Rhea says. "He makes a point to stay busy."
These days, Sal volunteers once a week for an arts and craft group for the handicapped with Shirley Nussbaum at Century Village. Nussbaum, Sal's downstairs neighbor, says she used to watch Sal run up and down the stairs "20 times a day," doing light maintenance work for his neighbors.
"This man is busy all day," she says. "He doesn't want to take a break."
Sal credits hard work and "clean livin'" for keeping him so youthful. He never smoked or drank -- except for an occasional favorite, a pia colada.
"Everyone wants to know the secret," Sal says. "I don't know what I did to deserve it."
His wife certainly knows.
"Whenever anyone needed help," she says, "he was always there to help them."