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From Tuscany to Tinton Falls and back

Strangers discover WWII bond, form lasting friendship

Created date

November 4th, 2016
Benjamin Stewart (right) revisits a site in Italy where he served in WWII. With him are his wife Mary (second from right) and Seabrook neighbor Josephine Arminio (second from left), who owns a house in Diecimo.

Benjamin Stewart (right) revisits a site in Italy where he served in WWII. With him are his wife Mary (second from right) and Seabrook neighbor Josephine Arminio (second from left), who owns a house in Diecimo.

Seabrook is known for its vibrant activities, maintenance-free lifestyle, and spacious apartment homes. While people moving to the Tinton Falls, N.J., Erickson Living community expect all that, they often don’t expect one of the best aspects about life at Seabrook: friendship. 

One such unanticipated friendship started 12 years ago when two strangers with a common thread each started the next stage of their lives at Seabrook. 

Josephine Arminio moved to Seabrook from Shady Oaks in Red Bank shortly after the community first opened. Bronx-born by Italian immigrant parents, Josephine speaks Italian and is proud of her Tuscan heritage. 

A year later, Benjamin Stewart and his wife Mary moved from their house in Tinton Falls, where they had lived for 25 years. A WWII Buffalo Soldier who had joined the Army’s 92nd U.S. Infantry Division in 1942, Benjamin was near the front lines as Allied forces made their way through Italy in 1944 and 1945. 

“Many years later I’m at Seabrook, and we were having an Italian language class,” Benjamin recalls,  and that’s how he met Josephine. The two discovered their shared link to Lucca, the Italian province where he served and she owns a house. 

“I was aware of black soldiers who had come to my parents’ town after the war and had liberated the town,” Josephine says. “I met Ben, and he started telling me about his experience in Tuscany.  It was interesting to meet him. We always had a glass of wine together and would talk. We’ve become good friends. He’s like a family member.”

Retracing his steps

After a few years of sharing stories about their experiences in Italy, Josephine invited Benjamin and Mary to her home in Diecimo, about ten miles from Lucca’s city center. She has visited nearly every summer since 1932, totaling 61 trips to the country.

“We retraced everywhere he had been,” says Josephine. “He had such a keen mind at remembering everything. He remembered the restaurants where he ate.”

For Benjamin, it was a chance to “see the new Italy. When I left, it was in ruins,” he says. 

They hired a driver who drove them to all the places where Benjamin had served as well as other sites he had not seen. “It was near ideal,” he says. “It was so nice because I would go on a walk every day, and as you walk down the road there are figs, strawberries, hazelnuts, pomegranates. It was like being in a new world.” 

He says the slow pace of travel and Tuscan culture agreed with him, not to mention the breathtaking countryside and the friendly warmth of its people. “I like everything about Italian culture—the music, the food, the people, the weather, and the nature,” he says.

“It was a pleasure to be with Josephine; she showed us all her properties, and we met her friends and family,” he adds.

Josephine also arranged for Benjamin and Mary to have dinner with the mayor of Lucca, who honored him for his service.

“It makes me very happy, and I’m glad that he was able to come and do what he did,” Josephine says.

Italy at home

As frequent travelers, the Stewarts and Josephine have appreciated the worry-free lifestyle at Seabrook over the past several years. The ability to simply lock the door to their apartment and go has been a convenience not afforded by home ownership. 

Aside from their trip to Italy, over the past 40 years, the Stewarts have also visited Brazil, parts of the U.S. and Canada, England, Russia, the Baltic States, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Spain, Portugal, North Africa, and the Caribbean islands.

Though they travel less frequently now, all three enjoy the camaraderie and convenience of having activities like the Italian-American Club available at Seabrook, which takes day trips to places like the Bronx and Brooklyn.

The club meets monthly except in summer and features speakers, films, music, opera, and, of course, Italian food. 

For Josephine and many club members, it’s a taste of their heritage at home. “It helps because it’s meeting people of my own background,” says Josephine. 

When asked about her Italian favorites, she responds: “Don’t get me started on Italy because I’m so proud of my Tuscan heritage, you have no idea.” 

You’ll just have to attend a club meeting to find out.

Seabrook priority list members may attend club meetings. Not on the priority list? Contact the sales office at 1-800-615-9625 to find out how you can join.