By Martha R. Alonso Hernandez
Puerto Rico native Emilio Navarro doesn’t like to sit still. Even at the age of 104, Navarro starts his daily routine with a session of calisthenics, which he happily demonstrates to visitors. His enthusiasm and zest for life underscore why he has been chosen for a special honor — as America’s Outstanding Oldest Male Worker for 2010.
“I like to stay active, move around and run,” Mr. Navarro explains surrounded by years of memories in the form of photos, trophies, certificates and portraits. “When I was young, I was always jumping from here to there. I could not stay still for a moment.”
Emilio “Millito” Navarro (PHOTO: Martha R. Alonso HernÃ¡ndez)
This holds true to this day. Mr. Navarro or “Millito,” as he is affectionately known, leads a busy and productive life and because of it is being honored by Experience Works, the Unites States’ largest nonprofit training center for older workers.
“He is an extraordinary human being,” said Edna Rodriguez, state director for Experience Works. “Millito portrays our idea that productivity has no age or time limit.”
Yet, Millito was well-known before reaching the milestone age of 104.
Millito made history as the first Puerto Rican to play in the Negro baseball leagues. The two-time Hall of Famer – he is an inductee in the Puerto Rican Baseball Hall of Fame and the Puerto Rican Sports Hall of Fame – is still making history.
He is believed to be the last surviving member from the Negro American League and is considered the world’s oldest former Major League baseball player, softball player and coach.
When reliving his baseball days, Millito can’t help but smile. It’s the memories of having to go to work at the age of five, after the death of his father, that still evoke unpleasant memories. To help his mother, he shone shoes and balanced a metal bowl on his head out of which he sold coconut candy.
“I worked, worked, worked a lot, and then worked some more,” said Millito with a voice loaded with of emotion.
It was not until a fateful day, spurred by his love for baseball and the desire to watch a game, that changed Millito’s future for the better.
“The school I attended used to compete with other schools, but I had no money so I used to sneak in,” recollected Millito while explaining how he got to play baseball. “Mr. Gordian, the team’s coach, asked me to replace a player. I produced two hits, stole second base and then third. I was named a member of the team and was given a uniform.”
At age 17, Millito signed with the Ponce Lions in Puerto Rico and went on to the New York Cuban Stars, a black league. He also played in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.
After his baseball career ended, Millito ventured into a variety of other occupations. He managed the maintenance of a baseball field stadium in Ponce, Puerto Rico for 10 years and went on to work as a coach and physical education teacher at schools in Ponce and Caguas. He has witnessed the changes among young people and doesn’t like what he sees.
“Today’s youth have no respect for others, especially their elders,” Millito said. “They forget that we are part of an Indian file. Some go first and some follow, but we all go. Sooner or later we all die.”
Emilio “Millito” Navarro with his son Erick, one of his five children. Millito also has 11 grandchildren, nine great-grandchildren and one great-great-grandson. (PHOTO: Martha R. Alonso HernÃ¡ndez)
In addition to being an educator, Millito is also an entrepreneur.
Millito established an entertainment gaming machine business, called Shuffle Alley. Today the business is managed by his sons but the bookkeeping and financial decisions are still handled by Millito.
Though Millito would be the first to say he is not a psychologist, the principles by which he has lived his life can be found in any self-help book. According to Edna Navarro, Millito follows a set of values which have helped him be who he is.
They are values that have guided him through 104 years of living: Family should be first; One must do good to receive good; There should be order, even in chaos; It is very important to lo
ve God above all; and Things must be seen with humor, but above all respect.
For Millito, these values haven’t just been words to live by but his secret for a long life — that has a lot more living to do.
Martha R. Alonso HernÃ¡ndez is a freelance writer/photographer who is studying journalism at the University of Puerto Rico.