The well-known Hartly-area farmer was born Nov. 4, 1917.
Hartly’s Mike Fruscione is a man of quiet demeanor and very few words.
Some might say that because he’s almost a century old, he might have run out of things to say, but that’s not the case. He’s just always been that way.
Fruscione wasn’t even particularly impressed about his 100th birthday on Nov 4.
“It’s just another day to me,” he said, seated comfortably in the home of Anna MaeNagyiski, a longtime family friend. He wasn’t thrilled about the family throwing him a party for his 99th birthday and said he didn’t want one this year, either.
It doesn't matter; he got one anyhow.
Relatives from New Jersey and from as far away as Georgia and Florida converged on Dover Saturday to celebrate Fruscione’s birth.
They came all that way for a reason, niece Grace Duvelsdorf said from her home in Port Ritchie, Florida.
“He’s always been a wonderful, kind man,” she said. “He bought me my first bicycle at the age of 15 and he’d hold me as I went up and down the lane at his house.”
That house still stands out on Pine Tree Road, south of Hartly, on land Fruscione farmed for almost 80 years. He still owns it, although other family members live there now.
No electricity, no running water
Michael Frank Fruscione was born at home Nov. 4, 1917, son of Joseph and Beatrice Fruscione and one of six boys and a daughter, Mary, now age 97 and Grace Duvelsdorf’s mother.
“In those days, everyone was born at home,” Fruscione said. “They didn’t have a hospital. There was a midwife to help, but no hospitals.”
Except for his oldest brother, all of the Fruscione children were born on the Kent County farm.
Sicilian-born Joseph had been in America for several years before going back to the Old Country and returning with Beatrice. Settling first in New York, in 1910 they moved to Hartly, where they first had to clear the land before starting the farm.
There was no electricity and no running water, and entertainment was listening to Joseph read books in Italian.
“My grandfather always wore a white shirt, tie, and hat, and when he was done working would put on his jacket, vest, and pocket watch,” Duvelsdorf recalled. “He was what you’d call a gentleman farmer.”
Although the farm was successful, Joseph eventually moved the family to Trenton, New Jersey, to be nearer other relatives. Michael was the only child to return to the farm but he never stopped visiting family.
“My fondest memory of him was that he had this battered old red pickup and at Christmas, he’d drive up to Trenton with it full of fresh holly,” Duvelsdorf recalled. “They’d wrap it around the Christmas lights and it would be very, very festive.”
In his later years, Fruscione would get away from Delaware winters by going to Florida to pick fruit.
In November 1941 Fruscione enlisted in the US Army despite a hearing impairment that now has rendered him almost completely deaf. He trained as a corpsman and took part in the Normandy landings, serving until the end of the conflict.
Frusicione rarely talks about that time in his life; all of his wartime memorabilia was lost in a 1980s burglary.
Following the war, he returned to Delaware and resumed farming, raising soy and corn and some occasional livestock. He only gave up farming last year.
A pillar of the community
A confirmed bachelor, in the years to follow he informally adopted many Kent County families, including those in the Amish community, as his own.
“He’s been a pillar of the community out here,” Anna Mae’s son, Kevin Nagyiski, said. “He was the one who first took me hunting years ago. He’s known the parents and grandparents of many people out here.”
Her uncle, Duvelsdorf said, always worked hard, stayed fit and ate healthy foods, one of the reasons, she thinks he’s outlived so many of his friends. He doesn’t like modern medicine and still has a healthy respect for the benefits of castor oil.
“Before ‘nutrition’ became a buzzword, he always ate carefully,” she said. “He never smoked and he would have an occasional glass of wine.”
Fruscione’s nephew, Charles, describes his uncle as a man of simple means who always was kind and helpful to everyone.
“He is a true friend to anyone lucky enough to know him,” Charles said. “He always showed his patience with us younger family members and there is a sense of peace, wisdom, and sincerity about him that always has been comforting.”
As his 100th birthday approaches, Fruscione spends his days watching television, particularly news programs. He doesn’t dwell on the past and doesn’t talk about the effect he’s had on the lives of others.
“This is where I’ve always belonged,” he said. “I was born here and I’ll die here.”