By Michelle Caceres
For Valrico resident Lilia Villareal’s milestone 100th birthday, she and her family celebrated on a Caribbean cruise with the captain and crew joining in the festivities.
On Saturday, December 5, when she celebrates her 103rd birthday, it will be a quieter family get-together in her home.
Villareal’s growing family consists of two children, nine grandchildren, approximately 40 great-grandchildren, 30 great-great grandchildren and three great-great-great-grandchildren.
“I’m pleased to have such a big family to take care of me,” said Villareal. “I love them.”
Villareal (then Lilia Martinez) was born in Ybor City on December 5, 1912, and grew up in a row-style shotgun house (so named because if you fired a shot through the front door it would theoretically exit out of the aligned back door) across the street from the Cuban Club on 10th Ave.
“Her father delivered ice with a horse and buggy,” said daughter Eva Adams. “Those were different times.”
As the only daughter in a household with seven brothers and strict parents, dating was difficult but she managed to meet Key West native Tony Villareal at a dance when she was 22. The couple eloped and moved to Miami in the 1930’s where Tony worked in the booming construction industry.
Villareal and her husband moved back to the Tampa area in the early 60’s and purchased a 15-acre piece of property off Stearns Rd. in Valrico. Seven homes now sit on the property; and all have family members living in them.
Adams recalls first moving to Valrico.
“Valrico used to be very country, there was nothing but dirt roads,” she said.
Her father used to visit the local school to get leftovers from the lunchroom to feed his pigs. He also raised cows and chickens. The only commercial property was a small convenience store at the corner of Bloomingdale Ave. and Lithia-Pinecrest Rd. Groceries were purchased at the U-Save on Hwy. 60.
“There was nothing around but orange groves and dairy farms,” said Adams. “It’s so busy now.”
In spite of the ever-changing world around them, this multi-generational family will find the time next month to celebrate the glue that binds them together; a woman whose longevity is still a rarity in this fast-paced world, but a blessing to cherish.