May 4, 2021
by Lin Sue Cooney
Most of us observe Veteran’s Day in November, but the celebration came a bit early for a very special World War II veteran turning 100 years old.
Born on April 21, 1921 — exactly five years before Queen Elizabeth II — Stella Sgro served as an Army drill sergeant and air raid warden during World War II. As a civilian, she worked in a factory making parts for the military. Yet, the former nurse had never been honored or acknowledged for her service, according to daughter Lynda McLaughlin.
Stella’s Hospice of the Valley care team wanted to change that for their “spunky” patient. Nurse Shana Hofberger and social worker Jenna Thomas reached out to the DreamCatchers Foundation in hopes of creating a day to remember. Student clubs at two Mesa high schools and Grand Canyon University jumped at the chance to honor such a remarkable centenarian.
On Stella’s 100th birthday, scores of military organizations paraded past her home at Christian Care Nursing Center in Phoenix. Members of the Arizona Patriot Guard Riders, Arizona Military Vehicle Collectors Club and Daughters of American Revolution came out in force.
Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego proclaimed April 21, 2021, “Stella Sgro Day,” to honor “her life, her service and her legacy of enduring prosperity and longevity.” U.S. Sen. Krysten Sinema sent the “Arizona treasure” best wishes for “a grand and glorious 100th birthday.”
Sgt. Stella Sgro petted therapy ponies sporting red, white and blue; accepted a myriad of gifts; and heard a live rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.” She was a little dazzled and lot grateful. “It’s absolutely beautiful,” she whispered to her daughter. “Thank you.”
In her younger days, Stella was a world traveler — she has 32 cruises under her belt. Even after slowing down, she has never lost her joie de vivre. Stella would always look forward to lunching with her daughter and splitting a beer with her son-in-law.
Then came the pandemic and months and months of isolation.
“It’s really been hard during COVID,” said Shana, her nurse. “Because of the restrictions, I was the only one who could see her. Her daughter couldn’t visit.” That socialization helped nurture Stella through these many challenging months. “Because of everyone on her Hospice of the Valley care team, my mom has maintained this year of life,” Lynda said. “That’s very poignant.”
Even more touching were all the amazing tributes honoring this remarkable woman. From family and friends to neighbors, fellow veterans, mounted infantry and bikers — it was the celebration of the century!