Lisa Vito: An Inspiration

September 11, 2017 - Paul Downey

Lisa Vito is undeniably inspiring: at 90 years old, she completed a Bachelor’s Degree in German Studies at San Diego State University. Quick to smile and full of life, she has the aura of someone much younger.

Lifelong Learner

At 65 years old Lisa began taking classes for fun, not worrying about obtaining credits, calling her endeavor “a hobby to satisfy my inquiring brain.” Because SDSU offered affordable classes to senior citizens Lisa could take lots of courses, learning about whatever sounded interesting to her that semester, including geology, astronomy, Latin, human biology and Chinese.

After she’d been taking classes for a while, a policy change required students to declare a major before being allowed to enroll in classes. Having no intention of earning a degree, but needing to declare a course of study, Lisa chose German Studies. Lisa casually explains German Studies as, “Recent history, geography, culture, that sort of thing.”

College Graduate

For 23 years, Lisa took classes and enjoyed them immensely – there were no computers, no homework, just a professor and the books she enjoyed so much. Then, at 88 years old, Lisa started to slow down a bit and told her counselor she didn’t want to enroll in any more classes. Her counselor explained that she was only a few courses from earning a degree, and enthusiastically encouraged Lisa to see it through.

Not a person who gives up on things, Lisa completed some basic requirements to obtain a GED in order to be eligible for a bachelor’s degree, then took the final upper level German classes required for her major. In December of 2014, at 90 years old, Lisa received her official diploma and was “finally finished with school.”

Traveling Woman

Originally from “the German part of Switzerland,” Lisa leads an active, exciting life that has taken her all over the world and describes herself as having “gypsy blood.” She speaks four languages (English, Italian, French and German) and has used them all throughout her travels. Notable chapters of her life include apprenticing for a dressmaker in Switzerland and working as a nanny to the child of a bullfighter and well known singer in Madrid.

At 28, Lisa married an Italian man and they moved to England, where they stayed for five years and had their first two children before sailing to America. In 1954 the family settled in Boston, where they stayed for a while, and where they added two more children to the family. Eventually, Lisa’s eagerness to explore “America the Beautiful,” as she calls it, became too strong to deny. The family moved to St. Louis, where Lisa found work at the revolving Top of the Riverfront Restaurant, which operated atop Stouffer’s Riverfront Inn (later called the Millennium Hotel St. Louis), next door to the Gateway Arch.

Stouffer’s Riverfront Inn, circa 1968.

The family later moved to Denver, finally settling in San Diego where they lived in a rented duplex on 30th Street until they were able to purchase their house in the Oak Park neighborhood in the late 1980s (where Lisa and one of her sons still live). Lisa found work as a cashier at PSA Airlines, allowing her to see the world at a discounted price.

Family Matters

Without much family around, Lisa is grateful for the friends and companionship she finds at Serving Seniors. Her husband passed away some years back and two of her four children live in Europe: one in Germany and one in Switzerland. Sadly, Lisa lost one of her daughters to breast cancer a few years ago, but one of her sons recently retired and now lives with her in Oak Park – she says the arrangement works well for them because he “lets her do what she wants.”

Still Going Strong

These days, this great-grandmother of twelve is part of a folk dancing group that performs at Balboa Park, enjoys line dancing classes at Serving Seniors’ Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center, and relaxes with Tai Chi at the La Mesa Senior Center. Having recently returned from a trip to Chile and Patagonia and participated in our annual talent competition, Lisa fills her days with activities and friends, many of whom she’s met at Serving Seniors.

Lisa talks about Serving Seniors’ Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center with a smile and remarks on what a wonderful place it is. She appreciates its attractiveness and cleanliness and expresses gratitude for this hub of bustling activity that reinvents the concept of a senior activity center. For our part, we’re inspired to have such a vivacious lady among us.

Read U-T San Diego’s feature on Lisa (PDF)

Lisa plays a Beethoven piece at Senior Idol, our annual talent competition.

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