Two Cocoa Beach area neighbors celebrate 100th birthday on same day

Helen Wilkins, left, and Jessie Romano turned 100 on Aug. 15.

The year that Helen Wilkins and Jessie Romano were born also saw the advent of commercial radio stations in the United States. 

Just four years later, millions of households had radios and a Ford Model T could be bought for about $300.

When Wilkins came to the Cocoa Beach area in the early 1950s, there were 246 people living in the city and the telephone listing was just one page.

On Aug. 15, almost as many people joined a caravan of vehicles in a drive-by salute for the 100th birthday celebration for Wilkins and Romano, who live just a few doors from each other.

The two have been celebrating their birthdays together since 1964.

In addition to friends and family, a caravan of vehicles that was led by those from the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office and the Cocoa Beach Police Department drove by, both centenarians sat under a tent canopy in Wilkins’ driveway. Many of the vehicles carried greeting signs and balloons.

Wilkins called the event "fantastic" and said it was "the best" to be able to celebrate it with family and friends.

"Oh gosh, it’s absolutely incredible," added Nancy Wall, Wilkins’ niece. "She’s the last of our parents’ generation and we love her dearly. We are just so thankful she’s with us to share this day and this beautiful place where she lives."

Anyone who reaches 100 years old deserves a special celebration, said Annetta Gross, a friend of Wilkins. Gross helped organize the celebration with members of the First United Methodist Church of Cocoa Beach. Wilkins is a charter member of the church.

"She had a special lunch planned that she wanted to have and because of COVID, it had to be canceled, and so this is Plan B."

Plan B suited the two centenarians just fine.

Romano said she was "very happy that a lot of my grandchildren came down" and that it was nice that her friends and family also came and that "they want to celebrate it."

Wilkins’ caregiver Shelly Canada noted how much Wilkins has looked forward to celebrating with Romano.

"That’s all Helen’s talked about is her and Jessie, how they have participated in their birthday for so many years together and she wants to continue to do that."

Wilkins attributes her longevity to clean living.

She said she had wonderful parents and upbringing and has always eaten healthy food, and no junk food or soft drinks.

Romano’s friends from St. David’s by-the-Sea Episcopal Church, where she attends, also participated in the celebration.

"I think she’s very, very excited and proud that people care to celebrate this day with her in the midst of a pandemic," said Jessie Donini, Romano’s daughter.

Romano, who was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, attributes her longevity to "exercising, watching my diet and having five daughters."

Donini said her mother has always maintained a positive attitude, not letting stress bother her.

"My mother loves to tell people that she has a daughter that is 81 years old," Donini said.

Romano has a large family and counts more than 60 grandchildren and great grandchildren.

"She is expecting 63 and 64," her daughter said.