Almost 100, South Florida man says it’s time to retire

Scattered throughout Fred Sergio's waterfront home in South Florida are dozens of hand-whittled wooden canes, each a piece of the past half-century of Delray Beach's history.

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Sergio will celebrate his 100th birthday Tuesday — and amazingly, his retirement from the city as grounds supervisor at Miller Park.

When asked to recall memories of his time managing the cluster of Little League baseball fields, Sergio points to his canes.

"Look how many I’ve made," the 99-year-old says fondly.

Each cane has trimmings from the park’s trees since Sergio began working there in 1962. He whittled them in his downtime. Before then, he was the "whistling mailman," who delivered mail and newspapers to the people of Delray Beach by foot — "That’s how it was done back then," he recalled before he tried to whistle the tune and simply blew out air.

As he approaches a century of life, Sergio says he has a strong suspicion he's the oldest employee in Delray Beach. Technically, he stopped working at Miller Park two years ago when his wife, Emma Loretta, who passed away in April, first showed signs of sickness. Months later, he asked the city of Delray Beach to return to work at Miller Park.

"That’s just who he is, a very hard worker," said Margie Barbaree, the eldest of Sergio’s four children.

The city will honor him on his birthday with a plaque for his many years of service. He’ll officially retire that day.

Sergio is well-known in Delray Beach’s Little League community. He was always the first to arrive at Miller Park in the afternoons before the games and the last to leave in the evening. He has collected dozens of pins and patches from the many teams that played, each souvenir attached to a black vest so weighed down by memories that it’s too heavy for Sergio to wear.

What kept him working at Miller Park so long? "The children."

"I was with the kids all the time and they always asked me, 'How old are you?' They wanted my job." he said chuckling. "I told them, 'You’ll be waiting a long time for my job.'"

In 1996, a field at the park — Sergio Field — was named in honor of the veteran and Delray Beach employee.

"Most people are six feet under when they recognize them with such an honor," he joked. "Here I am six feet above ground and enjoying it."

He doesn’t visit the field as often as he'd like to — he uses a walker to get around now — but stays involved in Delray Beach's veteran events. Sergio served in the Navy between 1942 and 1945, and was stationed in the South Pacific during World War II.

He went to Washington D.C. recently on an Honor Flight.

He saw the flag raised at Iwo Jima and recalls memories of his time in the Navy in remarkable detail, down to the day of week some events happened.

"It’s just mind-boggling how he's able to remember everything," said Rosemarie Brant, another of Sergio’s children.

It helps that he’s jotted down every job he has held on a two-page notebook entry. Among the listed trades: bus boy in the 1940s, milked cows in the 1950s and owned A Cafeteria, an eatery on Atlantic Avenue across from what is now Old School Square, between 1956 and 1961.

"Back when the rent on Atlantic Avenue was only $150 a month," he said.

He’s collected the history of Delray Beach in his memory bank since he moved to the quiet village by the sea in the mid-1950s.

"It’s the best place I ever lived," he said.

As with many who reach the milestone of 100 years of life, Sergio’s often asked the key to living long and healthy.

"Well it’s not the pound cake and powdered donuts he eats for breakfast," Barbaree joked.

Said Sergio: "Keep working. Best thing to do to stay alive. You got to keep working."