Agnes Triplo has a rocking chair in her living room, but when a Gazette photographer came to her house in Glenville to take her picture, she didn’t want to sit in it.
“It will make me look old,” she said.
Agnes is 100 years old, but you’d never know it.
Her hair is brown, her face is smooth as a 60-year-old’s, and her bare toes, the nails painted a trendy shade of black, peek out from stylish beige sandals. In her younger days, she was five foot two. Now she is less than five feet tall. Mother Nature has been kind to Agnes.
Spend a little time with this lovely lady and you’ll find out why she doesn’t like the word “old.”
“I’m the spitfire,” she says, her face crinkling with laughter.
“I love music. I love getting together with people who are happy. I like people who have a sense of humor. And I don’t like pickle pusses.”
And after a century of life in Schenectady, Amsterdam and Glenville, Agnes has become a storyteller, eager to share her memories.
Agnes was born in 1915, and one of her favorite tales is from the 1920s, during Prohibition, when she was a young girl living on Foster Avenue in Schenectady, and her father, Domenico Frederico, was making whiskey and selling it to local taverns.
“I’m the bootlegger’s daughter,” she says. “My father came here from Italy at age 19 with his brother. His job was working with the big machinery on the roads. But then he went into bootlegging.”
Her father cooked up the booze at a still in Guilderland, stored it in the Foster Avenue house and then delivered it in one of his Studebakers.
“We had a cache in the basement where he put the five-gallon cans. He would deliver the cans and take my mother with him, and sometimes me, to make it look like we were out for a ride. I would put the labels on. But I didn’t know what it was about,” Agnes says.
The family prospered. Her father wore silk suits and drove around town in a light-green 1928 Studebaker convertible. The women shopped at The Imperial, a high-end clothing store on State Street.
“He bought a thousand-dollar piano when times were tough, a Story and Clark player piano,” she says.
“And there were always people coming to eat dinner. He would cook, my mother would cook. Where we lived on Foster Avenue, there were hard workers, at GE and the mills and things like that.”
It wasn’t unusual for the mayor, policemen and some of the city’s finest musicians to share a meal at their house.
The family, which was called “Federico” in the old country, was American now. They spoke English, not Italian, and changed their name to Frederick.
“My mother was very American. She came here when she was 2 years old. She was brought up in Fort Hunter, outside of Amsterdam.”
But one day in 1927, when Agnes was 12, tragedy struck.
Domenico’s million-dollar still exploded. No one knew why.
“My father was burned in the explosion. He lived four days and then passed away.”
According to Joseph Triplo, Agnes’ son, Domenico was trying to save two men who were working at the still.
“My take on it all was his death and his operation, a million dollar still, was wanted out of the way by some unsavory types trying to control market share,” Joseph said in an email.
Domenico’s death was traumatic for the family, but life went on.
Agnes Frederick graduated from Nott Terrace High School in 1934 and worked at department stores selling clothes and dresses.
When she was still a young woman, she lost two of her five siblings.
A sister drowned accidentally in the bathtub at age 14, a brother had a heart attack at 46.
Another brother, Herman, was a well-known musician in the Capital Region and the Catskills for more than 50 years.
He was leader of the Freddy Herman Orchestra that played in Saratoga Springs at Newman’s Lake House, the Canfield Casino and the Grand Union Hotel.
In 1946, he opened Hermie’s Music Store in Schenectady.
“He was a great musician. He played the clarinet and saxophone.”
Herman died in 2001 at age 88.
Agnes is now the last of the siblings.
“I’m the only one. I don’t know why. And I saw it all,” she says.
And for Agnes, the dancing and music live on.
On Oct. 14, she celebrated her 100th birthday, and on Oct. 18, there was a big party at Augie’s restaurant in Ballston Spa with an accordion player and a saxophonist.
While there wasn’t any dancing at that party, Agnes likes to shake a leg whenever she can.
“I rock ’n’ roll,” she says, as her laughter lights up the living room again. “I can tango, I can waltz, I can fox trot. I’ve been dancing since I was 7 years old.”
Nearly 90 years after she took her first piano lesson, she has a keyboard in her home that a nephew gave her.
She likes to play “La Vie en Rose,” the 1940s tune popularized by French singer Edith Piaf.
“I think that’s the most beautiful song I’ve ever heard,” she says.
Beautiful music brings back beautiful memories of her husband, Anthony “Tony” Triplo, who died 11 years ago.
“I had a wonderful husband. He was very patient with me. He was very charismatic.”
For 25 years, Tony was the bartender at the Mohawk Golf Club. And before that, he was the bar manager and head bartender at the Van Dyck.
“He opened the Van Dyck with Marvin Friedman,” Agnes says.
That was in the late 1940s, when Friedman would bring jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck and Thelonious Monk to play in his club.
Agnes and Tony had two sons. Gary, the oldest, is a retired Baylor University professor. Joseph is a ceramic artist with a studio in Ulster County.
Agnes has one grandchild, 16-year-old Nina, and many nieces and nephews.
“She’s a hard worker,” says her niece, Kathleen Kniskern of Saratoga Springs, who visits often.
“She worked all her life. People would say ‘if you want it done right, give it to Agnes.’ ” The other thing they said was “wherever Agnes is, we have fun.”
For many years, Agnes worked as a medical transcriptionist. “I worked for six doctors,” she says.
These days, she lives alone in the home that she and her husband bought in 1951.
She does her own laundry and cooking. She doesn’t really like watching TV. “Just the news. I watch the news,” she says.
With the exception of some surgery long ago for a tumor on her thyroid, Agnes has enjoyed good health her entire life.
She never smoked and limits her drinking to an occasional glass of Asti Spumante.
“I played golf until I was 91,” she says. “I enjoyed golf very much. I played with a league in Saratoga. I won prizes for putting. They used to call me Eagle Eye.”
Two years ago, when she was 98, her stamina surprised her cardiologist.
Agnes doesn’t like elevators, so she walked up three flights of stairs to get to his office.
When the doc asked how she was doing, she told him she was “a little out of breath.”
Does she think exercise is important?
“Oh yeah,” she says, laughing yet again. “If you are sedentary, you decay.”
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, [email protected] or on Twitter @bjorngazette.
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