Cubs-themed surprise parade celebrates 107-year-old ‘Grandma Laura’
107-year-old Laura Petruzzelli’s birthday is a few months away, but the longtime Cubs fan was celebrated with a Cubs-themed parade through her Tinley Park neighborhood on Saturday.
Unable to spend time with most of her family over the past few months due to social distancing, Petruzzelli missed the regular interaction she is usually afforded. After not being able to get everyone together for their typical Mother’s Day gathering, Lara Groll and Paula Petruzzelli knew their grandmother needed a surprise to lift her spirits. The parade planning committee was assembled and got to work.
Several phone calls with various family members and support from the Tinley Park Fire Department led to a Cubs-themed “We’re thinking of you” parade past their grandmother’s home last weekend. A pair of fire engines were trailed by more than 10 vehicles decorated in red and blue Cubs colors, each honking and carrying loved ones who waved to “Grandma Laura” as they drove past. There were several signs with personalized messages and “W” flags blowing in the wind.
“It did her heart good,” Petruzzelli’s youngest daughter Rocco Fredrickson said. “She couldn’t stop talking about how special it was.”
Afterwards, the parade participants parked their cars, put on their masks and spread out for a quick impromptu family photo in the front yard. While the mask may have covered her smile in the photo, it was apparent Petruzzelli was touched by the kind gesture.
“I thank them for not ever not making me irrelevant,” Petruzzelli said after being outside for the first time in over two months. “Grandma loves everybody.”
Fredrickson could tell how special the moment was for her mother, who was born before the start of World War I and several years prior to American women winning the right to vote.
“This surprise probably ranks number one in her heart,” Fredrickson said.
Born in Portland, Oregon in 1913, Petruzzelli moved to Chicago in 1929. She married her husband Gaetano, an Italian immigrant who was a salesman for a produce house, in 1932. The couple had four children; Vito, Guy, Jacqueline and Rocco. Laura began listening to day baseball, specifically Cubs games while at home raising her children.
Ernie Banks, Fergie Jenkins and Billy Williams are former players Petruzzelli enjoyed rooting for the most. She also has a favorite on the current Cubs roster.
“Willson Contreras is a great catcher, ” Petruzzelli said with a smile. “But, I love them all.”
She first became a baseball fan in large part because of New York Yankees Hall of Fame shortstop Phil Rizzuto. The seven-time World Series champion moved to the broadcast booth after retiring and hosted a weekly nationally syndicated radio show from 1957-77. The two most well-known individuals to say the phrase “Holy Cow!” are Rizzuto and legendary Cubs broadcaster Harry Caray.
The Petruzzelli’s celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 1982. It would unfortunately be their last together, as Gaetano passed away less than a year later. Petruzzelli has 10 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and one great-great grandchild on the way, who is sure to be wearing a Cubs bonnet later this year.
“They never treat her like an old person. She’s very engaged and still talks to great-grandkids about school and the Cubs,” Fredrickson said. “She’s a baseball junkie.”
Although listening to and watching countless games at home over the past 90 years has cemented her as a Cubs fan, she’s never attended a game at Wrigley Field. Like so many other fans eagerly awaiting the return of baseball, Petruzzelli is especially hopeful to root for her team this summer.
There is also one more important item on her bucket list.
“What I’d like to do now is throw out the first pitch at a ballgame,” Petruzzelli said.
That’s something we would all like to see.
Matt Danielewicz contributed to this story. Photos courtesy of the Petruzzelli family.