St. Raymond Parish in Menlo Park celebrates three parish centenarians and longtime parishioners. From left to right: Rini Stefani, Marion Moreno and Mary Ann Robbiano pictured at the parish birthday party held for the trio in March. (Photo courtesy of Maureen Smith)

St. Raymond Parish celebrates three parish “Golden Girls” at age 100

By Christina Gray

Rini Stefani, Mary Ann Robbiano, and Marion Moreno seem to back up research that suggests faith, family, and friendship are keys to longevity. All three longtime St. Raymond parishioners — who happen to be good friends — are 100 years old.

According to fellow parishioner Pat Clough who talked to all three ladies at length for a parish celebration for the trio, the old friends all still sit side-by-side every Sunday at the 10 a.m. Mass, along with their caregivers and family members. It’s the way they have spent Sunday mornings for more than 60 years.

They are also bingo superstars who keep fellow players at Senior Bingo matches “attentive and laughing,” she said.

“Father Jerome calls them his “Golden Girls,” Clough said of Dominican Father Jerome Cudden, St. Raymond pastor.

As Clough tells it, Rini, Mary Ann, and Marion “breathe resilience” after lifetimes that have spanned more than a century. They have lived through the Great Depression, the Holocaust, World War II, and other conflicts that called their husbands and sons to service. They witnessed the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  In their sunset years, they saw the digital age change nearly everything about the world they knew, and they mourned the loss of husbands. They also survived the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rina Stefani

Rina was born in San Francisco in August 1923. She was the child of Italian immigrants who called Sts. Peter and Paul their parish community. Rini remembers the impact of the Depression on North Beach families, and rationing coffee and sugar and buying groceries with food stamps.

“I always did what I had to do, and that is still true,” said Rini, who will reach the age of 101 this summer.

Rini started a job with Wells Fargo Bank in 1941 after high school graduation and remained in their employment for 27 years. Sts. Peter and Paul remained a central part of her life.  She told Clough she accidentally “crashed” the wedding of Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe in 1954 when she walked into the open doors of the church after hearing music.

Rini met her husband of 47 years, Nello, on a blind date the previous year. They were married until his sudden death on Thanksgiving Day in 1997. The loving couple’s storied honeymoon included traveling by car from San Francisco to Acapulco. They ultimately settled in Menlo Park and became members of St. Raymond Parish.

Her friend Mary Ann Robbiano was the first to be by her side after her husband’s shocking death.

“A truer friendship would be hard to find,” said Rini. Rini and Nello had no children of their own when a little girl in a pink coat and matching hat running in the parish parking lot captured her heart. It was Mary Ann’s daughter, Angie, who is now director of operations at St. Raymond.

As personalities go, Mary Ann and Rini admit they are like yin and yang. But “we complement each other,” she said. Today, “little” Angie is like a daughter to Rini and helps both women retain their close family and parish bonds.

Mary Ann Robbiano

Mary Ann was born on March 31, 1924, in Evansville, Indiana, to German-born Catholics. She met her husband, Paul, a Menlo Park native, at a Valentine’s Day dance after earning her nursing degree. Paul, an engineer with a degree from Stanford University, had recently relocated to Evansville.

After marrying, the couple moved to Menlo Park in 1955, and both began working at Stanford-affiliated organizations—Paul, at the Stanford Research Institute, and Mary Ann at Stanford Hospital. Her nursing career included being the school nurse at Sacred Heart Convent School.  She hit pause on nursing to have her three children, Kay, Paul, and Angie, and returned to nursing when the children were  in school.

Mary Ann and Paul became founding members of St. Raymond Parish in 1959, and shortly thereafter is when Mary Ann met Rini. Together, the two friends balanced “joy rides” with Mary Ann behind the wheel, with serving the Legion of Mary, the Sodality, the Serra Club, and the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. According to Clough, “service to families in need was the deeper current that ran through their faith and their friendship.”

Rina said Mary Ann always “brought her faith into her nursing career.”  “‘Let a smile be your umbrella on a rainy day,’ is her motto,” she said. “She believes in praying hard, playing hard, and service to others.”

Mary Ann’s beloved Paul died of Alzheimer’s Disease 10 years ago at 91. Her 100th birthday fell on Easter Sunday this year, doubling the joyfulness of the day.

Marion Moreno

No one at St. Raymond will ever ask “which one is Marion” when all three friends are pictured together, as they were at the 100th birthday party the parish threw for them in March of this year.

Marion is known by all at St. Raymond Parish for her bright smile and flowered headband “perched just above her trim bangs,” according to Clough.  “She brings springtime to the seat in the front row every Sunday” accompanied by her caregivers. They vouch for the fact that a headband of flowers is Marion’s “brand” ever since her late husband, Hal, wrote a song for her. “Oh Marion, sweet Marion, how many times I dream of you, you always make my dreams come true.”

Born on April 6,1924, at St. Francis Hospital in San Francisco, Marion went to St. Brigid School. She was married to Jack Farrell when she was 18 not long after they met riding bikes in Atherton where Jack lived and Marion’s family spent their summers.

Jack served in the Navy during World War II and returned home to become a fireman for the City of Atherton, and later, city manager.  Married for 60 years, they raised their three children, David, Tom, and Nancy in the house where Marion still lives. She calls it “the house that Jack built.”  Jack died of cancer in 1988, but not before a baseball park was dedicated to him in East Palo Alto – Jack Farrell Park.

Marion was blessed to find great love a second time when she met Halcott Moreno at a Superbowl party in 1990. They were in their 60s, and had both lost their spouses. They were married at Nativity Church a year later.

Hal played the piano and he also wrote a love song to Marion. “He was a true romantic,” she said. Marion was the first woman president of the Palo Alto Lions Club.

Hal died in 2011 after 20 years of marriage.

“I was lucky, I had two wonderful husbands,” said Marion. She keeps their memories alive with music. She still attends “Banjo Night” at Harry’s Hofbrau in Redwood City, and often sings with the band. “I’ve always been a go-go girl, and I am still a go-go girl.”

St. Raymond parishioner Pat Clough conducted multiple interviews with Rini, Mary Ann, and Marion that served as the resource for this story.