PACE is proud to honor and celebrate the oldest and only Centenarian
currently enrolled in the PACE GNO program at the Shirley Landry Benson PACE
Center at St. Cecilia (an affiliated ministry of Catholic Charities Archdiocese
of New Orleans) – Ida Cesana.
Ida Bersano Cesana was born and grew up in the town of
Torino Italy. Torino was Italy’s first capital city as a unified nation, before
the national headquarters moved to Rome. Ida was born February 22, 1918
during WWI around the time of the Battle of Amiens where news came through that
the allies had broken through from Salonika and forced Bulgaria to sue for
peace. Ida is one of two children, her sister Elsa Bersano was 6 years younger.
At a young age, Ida took a great interest in dance. When Ida
was about 16 she became a Prima Ballerina with a touring ballet company from
the corps de ballet of Teatro Regio Di Torino.
During this time she also worked as a ballet dancer for the circus Circo Feijoo which was also known as Tony’s Circus (named after the great
clown Tony Grice). Ida said that she often road up and down by train through
the coast of Italy with the circus in box cars alongside the horses. She has
said that she came from gypsies so she was quite used to a free-spirited life.
While on the road working as a ballet dancer, Ida met a
Roman soldier doing reconnaissance photography from airplanes who became the
father of her daughter Elsa Cesana. Elsa has jokingly maintained that her birth
was a welcomed casualty of the war. At the age of 24 during WWII between 1945
and 1946 she married her husband Augusto Cesana, an Italian soldier who became
Elsa’s stepdad. Augusto had spent time in Africa before Ida and Augusto met in
Augusto tested automobiles in Italy and was a long distance
race car driver in Venezuela. Ida had culinary skills and in 1947 moved to open
a restaurant in Venezuela when her daughter Elsa was just 4 years old. Ida was
also a big Futbol fan (soccer team in Spanish) and was the first woman to start
a soccer team in Torino. At the age of 42, Ida had her second child, George
Eventually, Ida and Augusto wanted to move to America for
better opportunities and for the children’s education. Ida and Augusto applied
for a U.S. permit which took 7 years for them to become a U.S. citizen. While
waiting for their visa, Augusto became a gambler. Ida and Augusto sent Elsa (who
was 14 years old at the time) to live with an American family ahead of them in
1958. Elsa lived with the Davis family in different parts of New Orleans with 4
of the Davis brothers whom Elsa would end up living with in Covington,
Mandeville, and Westwego until Ida & Augusto could obtain their
certificates of naturalization from the United States. Ida, Augusto and their
young son George joined Elsa in New Orleans in 1962.
Ida and Augusto parted in 1981 at which time Ida took a job
at a local restaurant in New Orleans to earn her living for both Ida and Elsa.
She eventually left the restaurant to be the caretaker for an elderly woman and
finished that position in 1987 after her client was transferred to a nursing
home. When Ida stopped her caretaking job she moved back to Italy. Ida loved to
travel and has been to Egypt, Thailand, Spain, and Germany with small trips to other
European cities. In 2014 at the age of 96, she returned to the U.S. for the
funeral of her son-in-law, Mike Yoder Sr. She went back to Italy at the age of
97 to secure her good wool blankets and clothes and returned to live with her daughter
Elsa permanently at the age of 98.
There are currently 4 generations of the Cesana family living in New Orleans. Ida Cesana, who has 2 children (George Cesana and Elsa Yoder). Elsa and her late husband Mike Sr. had 3 children (Mary, Paula, and Mike Jr.). There are 4 grandchildren (Drayden, Cheyenne and Broxten – the children of Mary and Blake Naquin) and Milla (child of Paula Yoder and her former husband E.J.). The PACE family marvels at all that Ida has and continues to accomplish.