Blind World Magazine

Blind senior doesn't need sight to enjoy life.

January 10, 2006.
Lansing State Journal.

At age 90, Albina "Bea" Petrilli still possesses an energy level that leaves much younger people panting in her wake.

Petrilli, who celebrated her birthday Saturday, bowls regularly, has climbed a mountain, likes baking cookies at 9 a.m. and, during visits to Las Vegas, wins slot machine jackpots while exhausted younger companions are sound asleep.

"My mother has done pretty much everything you can do in life," said Henrietta Brewer of Lansing Township, one of Petrilli's three children.

Not bad for a woman who has been totally blind for more than 40 years.

Petrilli and her husband both were diagnosed with a hereditary condition that caused blindness. Their three children experienced deteriorating vision as well and are all now almost totally blind. However, none of Petrilli's eight grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren has been affected.

Brewer said her parents fought successfully to get the school district where they lived to open educational opportunities for children with sight problems while she and her brother and sister were in school.

Petrilli, who grew up on a farm in South Dakota, moved to the Detroit area in 1942 and took a job sewing parachutes for 75 cents an hour.

When World War II ended, she went to work for Blind Products, a company that made and sold items made by the blind. There she met Henry, her husband-to-be.

Retires at 81

After moving to Lansing following her husband's death in 1978, Petrilli began operating a concession stand in state office buildings before retiring at the age of 81.

"A person who worked for me decided to go into business for herself," Petrilli said.

"I decided I didn't want to try to train someone else, or I would probably have kept on working myself."

Petrilli's vision problems have not hindered her from enjoying life to the fullest.

In May, she won a bowling championship for totally blind people in New Orleans, bowling more than 60 points over her average, which was 25 at the time.

Friend Ruth Borough, a frequent traveling companion, said Petrilli's secret weapon was a wad of Kleenex she stuck in the thumb hole of an alley ball that didn't fit her hand.

Borough also climbed 2,420-foot Pilot Mountain in North Carolina with Petrilli a few years ago.

"We only found out how dangerous it was after we had done it," Borough said.

Petrilli also loves to play cards.

"I play with her once a month, and for some reason, she always seems to win the prize," said friend Arlene Moore.

Lucky in Las Vegas

Petrilli's luck at slot machines in Las Vegas is legendary among her family and friends, many of whom shared stories about her at a Saturday birthday party at the Korner Kitchen Restaurant.

Friend Sharon Potter said that after Petrilli had won three slot-machine jackpots in a short period of time in Las Vegas, an attendant decided to just stand by to help her collect the next one rather than wait to be summoned.

There also was the story of how she left a 20-year-old granddaughter, who was worn out from a day's activities, asleep in their room while she went back to the casino.

At Colony Woods Apartments where she lives, Petrilli enjoys organizing community projects for senior citizens, such as saving box tops that can be redeemed for supplies for schools or collecting empty medicine bottles for use in countries where medicine is distributed in paper.

"She wasn't happy when she lived in Independence Village because everything was already being done," Brewer said.

"When she moved to Colony Woods and could start her own programs, she was happy again."

Staff writer Kevin Grasha contributed to this report. Contact Hugh Leach at 377-1119 or

Winner: At 90, Albina Petrilli, keeps busy - winning a bowling championship, climbing a mountain, traveling. Losing her vision more than 40 years ago hasn't stopped her. The picture behind her Monday in her Lansing home was taken when she was 9 years old.

Albina 'Bea' Petrilli

. Age: 90

. Home: Lansing

. Family: Widowed, three children, eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren

. Occupation: Retired, operated concession stand in state office buildings until age 81

. Born: South Dakota

. Unusual job: During World War II, she sewed parachutes for a company in Detroit.

. Unusual accomplishment: Last May, she won the singles division championship for totally blind people during a national blind bowling tournament in New Orleans.

. Quote: "She's ready to keep going when I'm ready to go to bed." - frequent traveling companion Ruth Borough

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