OAKLAND -- Many years ago Alfreda Guadagna spent her $60 rent money to buy food for a poor stranger and her baby. Her husband was so angry he left her for a few days, but Guadagna counts that defining moment as the reason why she has lived to 102.
That young woman told her "May God bless you forever," and Guadagna said he has.
On Tuesday, she celebrated her 102nd birthday, one of many she's spent in Oakland.
Although she cried when she first left Lucca, Italy, more than 90 years ago, she said America is her home now.
"I've always loved Oakland; this was my city when I came from Italy," Guadagna said. "And I still love it. I got married, had children here and went to the schools here."
She met her husband, a sailor at the time, during World War II when she was 19 years old. Guadagna said meeting her husband and having three daughters are her favorite moments of living in Oakland.
The Oakland resident has also seen a lot of change in U.S. leadership, but she doesn't hesitate to say that Franklin D. Roosevelt is her favorite president out of the 16 she has lived to see elected in America.
"He was my best," Guadagna said with a smile. "He was a good man to the people."
Guadagna strives to be a good person, which she says can help people live longer. She helped in the community by running a nursery for children out of her home, where she cooked and took care of them when their mothers would go out of town. She retired when she was 65.
Guadagna's kindness has touched a lot of lives of those around her, but she has had to cope with losing these people over the years. She has dealt with the deaths of family, friends and neighbors, and she said sometimes it gets lonely. Her husband died more than 40 years ago.
"Sometimes when I'm alone I do (feel lonely) because I miss all of my friends," Guadagna said. "I think about them. And when you're as old as me, you do think."
A growing number of people are centenarians, according to a 2010 U.S. census, and they have had to cope with the death of loved ones who might be younger in age. From 1980 to 2010, the centenarian population increased 65 percent from 32,194 to 53,364, and they are overwhelmingly female. In 2010, there were 5,921 centenarians in California.
Guadagna's family, however, said her strength is what sets her apart from most.
"She's a real determined woman and she's absolutely fearless," said Jerry Stuhlmacher, her 60-year-old grandson and an Oakland resident. "I think that's one of the secrets to her longevity."
To this day, though, Guadagna still credits the young woman she helped and the blessing she received. She also advises that everyone eat right, be kind to people and exercise if they want to live a longer life.
"My doctor said nobody my age has a brain like me," said Guadagna, who stays busy gardening and taking care of stray cats. "My secret is from God. He must have gave me that."