Stephen Kozlowski entered into the world prematurely in 1918, so small that he was placed into a container similar to a cigar box. The family had already lost a son; his mother vowed not to lose another.
She did not. Kozlowski celebrated his 100th birthday Wednesday evening, Dec. 26, at the Playwright in Hamden among family and friends, including his daughter, Jan Foery, who offered that story to the Register.
Kozlowski said he and his wife, Geraldine, met on the corner of Whalley Avenue and Dwight Street. They went to Pepe’s Pizza on a date in 1939 — she had never seen pizza before; the meal cost them 25 cents.
They were wed in 1940 and raised five children — Foery and the now-Kerri Lettiero; Steve, Paul, and Mark Kozlowski — in a home on Bear Path Road in Hamden, attracted by the space for their growing family and the peaceful dead-end street.
He made his living in the auto industry, most notably repairing upholstery. He owned ACME Auto Body and Sales on Whalley Avenue and was a partner in Branford Dodge.
His wife passed four years ago. Kozlowski’s voice grew thick with emotion thinking of her.
“A wonderful woman. A wonderful, wonderful girl — to raise five kids and all the guff,” he said.
When asked if he had advice for living well, Kozlowski pointed to his marriage — it’s a partnership, a give-and-take, he said.
“You’ve got to give a little and you’ve got to take a little,” said Kozlowski. “You can’t always be in the right — you can be sometimes. But somebody else is righter than you (sometimes).”
His children described their father as a lover of life; the stiff backbone of the family, mellowed with age, a hard-worker, a good boss and partner, loving and supportive.
“This is a gift (to be able to celebrate his birthday),” said Foery. “It is a gift. It’s so lucky.”
“Are you kidding? (I feel) envious. We all want to be there (100 years old) — are you kidding?” Leitiero said. In discussing his longevity, she noted the quality of food they had on the table when she was growing up — the family grew vegetables, raised chickens and pigs, rode horses, and had a farm on the property.
“We are celebrating with him, of course, and so proud he has made 100 years old,” said Paul Kozlowski. “He’s excited about it; feels great about it — and he feels very good. And that’s the important thing at 100.”
“(There were) times over the years — this past year, even — when he said, ‘I don’t know if I’m going to make it,’” said Steve Kozlowski. “I said — are you kidding? We’re going to be there for a couple more.”
Kozlowski said he was pleased to be able to celebrate his birthday in their company.
“(I feel) wonderful, wonderful,” said Kozlowski. “Looks like I can do it all over again.”