Nanie Sparkles with light, love and gratitude
Florence Leber shares the details of her life as if they happened yesterday. At age 90, her mind is sharp, her memory is vivid, and her stories captivate. Known by her grandchildren as Nanie Sparkles, she is considered a family treasure and credits her strong mental ﬁtness to her life that is brimming with non-stop family and social interactions. She’s one sharp cookie. We’re in for a treat.
Life in Kansas City’s Little Italy
“My father had a big sausage company, the Mendolia Sausage Company, at 400 Brooklyn,” Florence recalls. Mendolia was a familiar name in Columbus Park, an area known as Kansas City’s Italian neighborhood since the late 19th century. Sundays started with church bells. “We had to go to 9 a.m. mass because most Italian men wanted their pasta with meatballs at 12 o’clock,” Florence says with a smile. “We’d spend the whole day with family.”
In the afternoon, the family would gather in the living room for music. “Dad loved to hear us play our instruments, whether it was good or not,” Florence recalls. That meant anytime Florence was at the piano – and her sisters were on their respective accordion, harmonica, and violin – there was plenty of clapping.
Florence’s next chapter
In 1955, at age 22, Florence married Frank Leber. Frank was also 110 percent Italian but had a German-Irish surname because he was adopted as a child by his step-father when his mother remarried after she became a widow. “We got married in the true Italian Catholic tradition at Holy Rosary,” Florence explains.
Before the couple started a family, Florence worked as a loan closing ofﬁcer for Merriman Mortgage Company. “I was always very detailed. Maybe too much,” confesses the former business school graduate. By age 27, Florence was the head of the department. “It was a big, important job, with a lot of responsibility,” Florence reﬂects. “The Merriman’s helped me build an amazing career. I met a lot of important people in Kansas City.”
Florence retired from the mortgage company in 1965, two years before the birth of her ﬁrst child. In the years to come, Florence would pour her heart and soul into building a home and a life of her own.
From wife and mom to Nanie Sparkles and Flo-Flo
After 33 years of raising a successful family, and enjoying a happy, prosperous marriage, Florence lost her husband. “Frank died on July 16, 1998, of pancreatic cancer. It was a sad time … everyone called him Sonny.”
Today, as pictured in her family photo, Florence surrounds herself with her two daughters, two sons-in-law, ﬁve grandchildren, and three great grandchildren – not to mention, countless nieces, nephews, and friends. When the grandkids were little, they called her “Nanie Sparkles” because she always had something glittery on. Now that they’re older, they call her “Flo-Flo.”
Florence lives in the Northland with her daughter Mary Camille Tamburello, son-in-law Guy, a professional chef, and Guy’s mother Jean. “They treat us wonderfully and Guy cooks a gourmet meal every night,” Florence says with appreciation.It’s an open door here,” she explains. “It’s just like my mother’s home was – everyone is welcome, anytime. There’s always food. It’s a beautiful situation.”
What makes her the family treasure?
Florence isn’t shy about saying that she’s very popular with her family. Or, for that matter, admitting that she likes to talk. “I’ve always been friendly, outspoken, true to the cause, and interested in what others are doing,” Florence professes.
“I’m involved with all my family and in what all the kids are doing, and they keep me up on everything. As for my grandkids, I give them ﬁve-star ratings, they’re wonderful,” she shares. No one lives more than 20 minutes away, and her grandchildren join her for dinner three days per week.
Florence has diabetes and has been living with chronic back pain from three collapsed discs. For the last several years she has relied on a walked to help her get around. Because of her age, her doctor has advised against surgery and uses stretches and exercises. She sees her doctor at Spira Care for all her primary care needs. “Blue KC
Medicare Advantage has a great plan with lots of extras. With my policy, they give you a physical, take care of bloodwork, and there’s absolutely no charge,” she touts. “They (Blue KC) also offer an app to help me with my balance.”
While she may not be as mobile as she used to be, there’s no stopping the 90-year-old, thanks in large part to her daughter, Cara Danner who cheerfully manages most all of her transportation needs. Florence is always ready for activities at
preschool, church events, baseball games, and happy hours with friends. She gets her nails and hair done every Thursday. And she’s looking forward to boating all summer long on Smithville Lake aboard her family’s boat named “Papa’s Big Water.”
A perfect name
The former high school reporter still loves putting pen to paper. Florence shares, “I write things down about how I feel, about my family. I’m beyond blessed because I’ve had a beautiful life, starting with my parents and husband.” The name on her birth certiﬁcate reads “Fortunate.” (Pronounced For-too-nata.) Florence explains, “Translated in Italian, it’s fortunate, which means lucky. And yes, I’ve been very, very lucky.”