Othon Guasso, dead at 107, started a new life as a tailor in Chicago in his 60s

SHARE Othon Guasso, dead at 107, started a new life as a tailor in Chicago in his 60s
04_e1537994879685.jpg

Othon Guasso (third from right), learning his craft at a tailoring shop in Mexico City. He had such thick, curly hair that his friends called him “Borrego” — Spanish for sheep. | Provided photo

As a young man in his early 60s, Othon Guasso left Mexico to start over in America. He established a reputation as an expert tailor on Michigan Avenue and lived for another 45 years, making it to 107 years old.

Even as a centenarian, he enjoyed a taste of cognac and tequila now and then, according to his son Jorge.

Born in the town of Zimapan in the state of Hidalgo, young Othon learned how to sew suits and fine fabrics from his father, a tailor who made uniforms for the soldiers during the Mexican Revolution.

Before Mr. Guasso died Sept. 20 at his home on the North Side near Peterson and California, his mind would drift back to those revolutionary days.

“In the past few months, he used to say, ‘Oh, it’s good the war is over,’ ’’ his son said.

Mr. Guasso was 3 or 4 when his family moved from Zimapan to Pachuca, the biggest city in Hidalgo.

He met his wife Maria Elena in Mexico City. They were married for 69 years, until her death in 2015 at 99.

He first came to the United States in the 1940s, when the government’s Bracero Program recruited Mexican guest workers for farm and rail jobs left unfilled when American men served in World War II. His job was washing trains in California, his son said.

Othon Guasso at 105. He lived to be 107. | Photo courtesy of Sandro

Othon Guasso at 105. He lived to be 107. | Photo courtesy of Sandro

After the war, he returned to Mexico.

In 1973, his children brought him again to America, where they’d immigrated. In a 2017 Chicago magazine article about some of the city’s oldest citizens, he told an interviewer his first impression was “estaba frio.”

Even though “it was cold,” what he liked most “is we were together,” said his son. Mr. Guasso and his wife lived near their five children and a growing group of grandchildren, four who have gone on to finish college. His kids found him and his wife a third-floor apartment in Logan Square, eventually moving him to a family three-flat in West Ridge, where he also lived on the third floor. Climbing the stairs helped keep him in shape.

Othon Guasso, his wife Maria Elena and family at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. | Provided photo

Othon Guasso, his wife Maria Elena and family at their 50th wedding anniversary celebration. | Provided photo

“He got a job on Michigan Avenue even though he didn’t speak the language,” according to his son, who said he presented himself to a men’s store on the famed shopping avenue, and “they gave him a test, and he passed with flying colors.”

The shop gave him some fine suede to sew. He knew how to sandwich it with a piece of tissue paper to keep it from sliding around on a sewing machine. He sewed both layers together, then tore away the delicate tissue paper to reveal perfect stitches in the suede underneath.

After working for the men’s store and also at Saks Fifth Avenue, he did alterations at a store in University Village that sold uniforms to police, firefighters and others.

“He had the perfect American dream,” Jorge Guasso said. “He worked when he needed to work and just to keep himself busy.”

He said the children took care of essentials for the parents so “they didn’t have to worry about paying rent or electricity.”

Even when Mr. Guasso’s children were adults, “We had a family dinner every Friday,” his son said. Sometimes, Mr. Guasso’s wife would make her chilaquiles.

Othon and Maria Elena Guasso were married for 69 years when she died in 2015. | Provided photo

Othon and Maria Elena Guasso were married for 69 years when she died in 2015. | Provided photo

Mr. Guasso would walk over to Devon and California to shop for groceries and get his hair cut.

“He liked Martell” cognac, according to his son, “but his favorite was Courvoisier.”

He also enjoyed going to Wrigley Field to see the Cubs.

Though he wasn’t able to get much education in Mexico, “He loved poetry and music,” his son said, and could recite the poems of Juan de Dios Peza and belt out the songs of Mexican singer Cuco Sanchez. He also adored the love song “El Silencio de La Noche,” about two lovers who want to be surrounded by the darkness of the night and sheltered by the rays of the moon.

In addition to his son Jorge, Mr. Guasso is survived by his daughters Eugenia Jovan and Maria Elena De La Vega, son Arturo, eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. His son Oscar died before him.

Visitation is 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, with a 7 p.m. service, at Olson/Burke Sullivan Funeral and Cremation Center, 6471 N. Northwest Hwy.

Othon Guasso singing at his 100th birthday celebration. | Provided photo

Othon Guasso singing at his 100th birthday celebration. | Provided photo

The Latest
Lucas Giolito pitched six innings of two-run ball Monday night against the Angels.
When federal policies fail us, state and other local elected leaders can guide us on a different path. Vote.
Mayor Lori Lightfoot made the remark — which lit up the Twitter-verse — during a weekend appearance at Pride Fest in Grant Park. Six mayoral challengers said they were outraged by the comment.
Midtown Center’s summer program for Chicago youth opens in new Wicker Park location.