Bridging the Generations Game Helps Keep Ferreri Sharp
By Andrew Soboeiro
For centuries, man has sought the secret of eternal life. The Fountain of Youth, the -philosopher's stone, the Ring of Power, and Botox are all endeavors in that direction. No such attempt has been -successful; man clearly cannot live forever.
Yet the elixir of life may come from the least expected source: contract bridge.
"I attribute my longevity to playing bridge," says 99-year-old Eugene "Gene" Ferreri, a Pinehurst resident. "I've been playing it for more than 80 years. I believe that my memory, as good as it is now, is attributed to my concentration in playing so much bridge."
A Pinehurst resident, Ferreri plays with Nancy's Game, the Southern Pines-based bridge club and affiliate of the American Contract Bridge League.
"He's very logical; he doesn't make many mistakes," says Hank Harman, Ferreri's principal bridge partner. "He also has a fantastic memory. He'll tell me about hands we played three weeks ago, saying what we should have done instead of what we did."
Preserving that memory is important considering what it contains. Ferreri has experienced a century of social, economic, and political changes, including World Wars I and II, the cure for polio, and the anti-Catholic, anti-immigrant sentiment of the early 20th century. His biography is invaluable in understanding American history.
Ferreri was born in Youngstown, Ohio, the son of immigrants from Agnone, Italy.
Growing up Italian and Catholic in Ohio meant adversity within a WASP culture, but he managed to overcome this and succeed in school.
After high school, Ferreri attended Western Reserve University, the precursor to Case Western Reserve University. He skipped the last year of college and went directly to medical school.
Finishing that, he interned at St. Vincent's Charity Hospital in Cleveland. There he met his wife, Rosemary, who worked in the indigent ward. They became engaged on Christmas Day in 1937.
During his residency, Ferreri joined the Army Reserve Corps, attending three weeks of training at Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania.
"I spent about a month training with an old, square medical regiment," he says. "This was the way the army was set up -they've changed it up since. I learned a little about drilling and stuff."
Ferreri finished medical school and became an obstetrician. During this time, Rosemary bore him two children before falling ill.
"My wife almost died," he says. "I called the army in Columbus and told them I had a sick wife, and they told me 'don't worry, we'll keep you in Ohio.' I told them they were full of [crap], because they can do with you what they want. They told me I could resign my commission, so I did."
Rosemary slowly recovered. Ferreri intended to remain in the area and support his wife, but the Pearl Harbor attack changed his mind.
World War II
"We were so bad off after Pearl Harbor," he says. "We used to joke that if they had followed up, we'd be speaking Japanese. ... I talked it over with my wife and family and her family and told them I felt that even though I didn't have to, I should [reenlist]."
This time he joined the Army Air Corps, traveling first to Columbia, S.C., to train B25 crews, then to South Asia to serve as a sanitation officer.
"I was in India when they were having their separation from England," he says. "It was an interesting time of life. ... They were burning ambulances and fighting in the streets when we were there. Later they got their separation."
His unit operated mainly in eastern India and western Burma, traveling between the two regularly. The unit once flew over Japanese-occupied territory and had to quickly change course lest it be shot down.
On another occasion, the plane ran out of fuel and had to perform an emergency landing, violently sideswiping the ground and leaving Ferreri bruised and bleeding.
When not working in sanitation or taking dangerous plane trips, Ferreri had a chance to experience the Orient. He visited the Taj Mahal, Bombay, Mysore, and Calcutta. While in Calcutta, he fell ill with amoebic dysentery and was sent home.
Ferreri became a full-time doctor in the postwar era. He and his partners introduced the polio vaccine to the Cleveland area.
"Three of us signed for $1 million dollars worth of vaccine," he says. "When we finished, we ended up with about $300,000 in cash, so we gave scholarships to all these various groups, from $1,000 down to $500. Every year we gave $20,000 to $40,000 in scholarships."
After retirement, Ferreri and his wife left Ohio for Pinehurst. He became involved in the local bridge scene, playing in competitions and with his wife before her death in 1993.
"He's an avid bridge player, and he's a winner," says Nancy Dressing, leader and namesake of Nancy's Game. "He's a very interesting man. His mind being so sharp at his age is wonderful. We recently made him a Golden Age Master, which is an honorary title for elderly people who would be too old to complete the levels for a Life Master. ... He was quite pleased about that; he's played bridge forever."
In addition to playing bridge, Ferreri tries to give back to the community.
He organizes donor drives for retired veterans, bringing the money to Fort Bragg.
"I've personally given $500 a month," says Ferreri. "I have 'adopted' 10 families at Fort Bragg, young married and with children, and I go to Fort Bragg twice a month and give 10 coupons. ... I'm gonna see if I can get [others] to join me so we can get maybe 10 or 12 [commissary] tickets a month."
He also donates books to Given Memorial Library.
"I went to the library," he says, "and I said to them, 'I will give you $100 at a time, and I want you to buy books for me. The only requirement is that you let me read the book first, and I'll return it to you, and you put a memorial in it.' ... I've been doing that for 20 years."
"He's a faithful support of the library," says Melissa Bielby, office manager at Given Memorial Library. "Most anybody that comes in here who reads mysteries knows his name because he buys so many books a year, and we put a bookplate there for his wife. ... He's here at least once a week, faithfully."
"People say that I live alone," says Ferreri, who is the father of four children, one of whom has passed away, grandfather of nine and great-grandfather of nine. "I'm not alone; I don't get a chance to get lonely because I'm too busy."
Contact Andrew Soboeiro at email@example.com.
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