100 Years Young And Still Dishing Out Wisdom

This Indy centenarian is still cooking up a lively life—but just don’t make a fuss over it.
Photo courtesy Karen Mangia

INDIANAPOLIS tech executive Karen Mangia has written four business books, but her latest project, Sundays With Salvator: 52 Recipes to Cultivate Conversation, Connection, and Community, couldn’t be a bigger departure. It’s laced with traditional Italian recipes, accented with family photos, and peppered with the wit of her grandfather, Salvator Mangia. “I started thinking about what would happen if I wrote about someone who’s inspiring and has wisdom to share,” Karen says.

Her grandpa certainly has plenty of that. Salvator, who is 100 years young, is a first-generation American whose father immigrated here from Trabia, Sicily. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, then built his own insurance business from the bottom up. And he is incredulous that anyone would want to hear about any of it.

Photo courtesy Karen Mangia

“I don’t think that my life was anything different from anyone else’s,” he says. “I didn’t do anything exceptional. I just tried to enjoy life and take care of my family.”

But one thing about him is undeniably extraordinary: the fact that at his age he is really living, not just existing. Salvator has kept both his good health and his sharp mind for an entire century. He lives independently in his southwestside home, converses on current events more knowledgeably and ardently than most, plants a garden every spring, takes daily walks for both exercise and to chat with neighbors, and shrewdly trades stocks— maximizing profits by wielding three iPads and two laptops simultaneously.

He also cooks dinner every Sunday with his family—a tradition they’ve upheld since he moved back to Indianapolis from Florida in 2005. Karen, who has watched family dinners grow anachronistic in our scattered world, decided to offer up 52 Mangia-clan recipes (one for each Sunday of the year). It took the spring and summer of 2023 to create proper recipes—from Salvator’s special meatballs to his lasagna—because, in many cases, no measurements or ingredient lists had ever been written down.

Photo courtesy Karen Mangia

Karen wanted to help people who’d never had a Sunday-dinner experience replicate one. “It would be good to hear not just how to live to be 100, but how to truly live,” she says.

Salvator’s advice includes nuggets like, “Own your vices or they will own you,” and, “Be humble or be humbled.” He also strays into practical matters, like the importance of eating fruit and vegetables at every meal and staying active. He boils it all down to enjoying what life gives you, cherishing family, not getting full of yourself, and living in the moment. In other words, Salvator has practiced mindfulness all of his days without knowing that mindfulness has become a trendy psychological approach to life.

He receives notes from folks who enjoy both the food (the meatballs are a favorite) and his sage observations. And it all leaves him mystified. “I would never have dreamed that my life was worth writing about.”

Sal Mangia’s Meatballs

1⁄2 lb. ground beef or veal
1⁄2 lb. ground pork
1 small onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 sprigs flat leaf Italian parsley, stems removed, minced
1 egg
1 tsp. salt
1⁄2 tsp. pepper
3⁄4 c. Italian-style breadcrumbs
1⁄4 c. freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano

Mix all ingredients in a bowl. Form into 2-inch balls. In a large pot, heat enough good-quality marinara sauce to cover meatballs and bring to a simmer. Add raw meatballs. Cover and cook 60 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve over al dente spaghetti; top with more Parmigiano Reggiano.