When he turned 47, Louis “Lou” Tedone started taking stock of his health.
“My father died at 50 years of age. His father died at 50 years of age. And I felt that I resembled my father,” recalled Tedone, San Luis Obispo’s first pediatrician. Standing 5 feet, 7 inches tall, he weighed 197 pounds with “a nice panza,” or, belly, he said.
Worried about what would happen to his wife, Grace, and nine children if he died, he vowed then to get “in the best shape possible.”
Tedone, who celebrates his 94th birthday on Friday, has stuck to his pledge to stay active. In addition to his regular exercise routine, he makes dozens of balls of fresh mozzarella cheese every morning by hand.
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“The general rule is the sooner you eat it after it’s made, the better,” said Tedone, who’s supplied his daughter and son-in-law’s deli, DePalo & Sons in Shell Beach, with mozzarella for more than 25 years.
Cheese-making is a skill Tedone learned as a teenager working at his family’s deli in Brooklyn, New York. He credits his parents, both Italian immigrants with elementary-school educations, with teaching him and his two brothers the value of hard work. The family lived in three rooms behind the store.
“They eked out a living,” Tedone said. “There was no extra money. No vacations. They couldn’t afford it. (But) honest to God, I never heard them complain.”
After their dad died of a heart attack in May 1941, Tedone and his brothers took turns getting up at 6 a.m. to make mozzarellas before heading to school. Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor, and all three Tedone boys joined the service.
Soon Lou Tedone, who enlisted in the U.S. Navy, was the only son at home to help mom. Throughout college and medical school, he made cheese every morning before class; in the evenings, he’d serve customers in the store before tackling his homework.
Tedone graduated from medical school in 1947, just six weeks shy of his 24th birthday. But by the time he was ready to start his own practice four years later, the Korean War had broken out and a “doctor draft law” required eligible physicians to serve in the military.
Tedone was drafted into the U.S. Army, and the man who once considered himself “a cradle-to-grave Brooklynite” was sent to California.
Together with his wife and two children, Tedone spent two years at Camp Roberts, near the border of Monterey and San Luis Obispo counties.
“When I got out, there was no pediatrician between Salinas and Santa Barbara,” Lou Tedone said, so he decided to open his office in San Luis Obispo in 1953. “It’s much easier and nicer to practice in a small town than in a big city. It’s easier to raise nine kids in a small town than in a big city.”
Tedone practiced medicine full-time for 35 years — retiring in 1988 at age 65 — then spent an additional 15 years filling in part-time for local pediatricians. “I missed one day out of the office for a medical issue that entire time,” he said proudly.
As a pediatrician, Tedone treated “half of the people in this town,” Cal Poly professor Sky Bergman said. She featured the doctor in her documentary “Lives Well Lived: Celebrating the Secrets, Wit & Wisdom of Age,” which premiered in February at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival.
“He fit the bill of somebody that was actively aging who had an interesting story to tell … and (who) has some good words to share with people,” Bergman said, describing Tedone as vivacious and funny.
“He’s just really an all-around good guy,” she said. “He’s my hero. He’s amazing.”
Bergman isn’t the only one to recognize Tedone.
In 2002, Tedone, then 84, was one of 21 local torchbearers who carried the Olympic flame in advance of that winter’s Olympic Games in San Lake City, Utah.
He’s the namesake of the French Hospital Medical Center Foundation’s Louis Tedone, MD Humanitarian Award, created in 2006 to honor individuals dedicated to “the health and well-being of the San Luis Obispo community.” A baby celebration wall in the San Luis Obispo hospital’s Stollmeyer Family Birthing Center, which opened its doors in May, also pays tribute to Tedone.
Asked about the secrets to a long, healthy and happy life, Tedone said, “The biggest thing is to find work you like and do the best you can.”
Tedone, who underwent quintuple-bypass heart surgery in 2001, also emphasized the importance of diet and exercise. Although he dropped daily trips to the gym after a severe bout of pneumonia in March, he still does sit-ups and push-ups and rides an exercise bicycle. He lifts weights watching “NBC Nightly News.”
Tedone rarely drinks — he has a half-glass of wine or a bottle of beer once a week – and he hasn’t smoked since 1947. “I smoked for three days and I told the guys, ‘Gee, my mouth feels like a chimney. Food doesn’t taste right.’ And they said, ‘Oh, you get used to that,’ ” he recalled. “I said, ‘Why would I want to get used to that?’ ”
Tedone, who has dinner every Sunday at a daughter’s home, counts himself fortunate to be surrounded by family, including 22 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. (“We’ve polluted the county with Tedones,” he joked.) Six of his adult children live in San Luis Obispo; the rest are located in Templeton, Sunnyvale and Placentia.
Tedone, who frequently calls himself ‘Lucky Louie,’ still speaks fondly about his late wife, “an unbelievable, fantastic woman” who died of cancer in 1994. “She was a gifted mother. She was a problem solver,” he said. “She had a great sense of humor.”
Like her mother, Tedone’s oldest daughter, Gracie Tedone Manderscheid, said her father always puts family first. “His motto is ‘Do the right thing,’ ” she said. “He’s the most unselfish person I know and I think he’s passed that down to his children.”
“This is what I’ve told the kids: ‘You can be happy with what you have or miserable with what you don’t have. You decide,’ ” Lou Tedone said. “I had a very happy, secure childhood. And what did we have? We had clean clothes, we had a bed that was comfortable, and we had food to eat. That’s all you need.”