Vincenzina S.C.M. Harris Vincenzina S.C.M. Harris

Vincenzina Savina Carmella Maria (DeBellis) Harris, 100, simply known as “Vincie” to her friends, fans and family, died on Friday, January 20, 2017 at the Kirkland Village Rabold Center in Bethlehem after living a long and purposeful life as a big band singer, New Deal proponent, mother, wife and as “Nans” to her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She celebrated her 100th birthday on Oct. 19, 2016, and although she lost much of her memories as the years went by, she still remembered her closest family members to the end.
The daughter of Italian immigrants, she was able to attend Cedar Crest College on a scholarship, commuting the first three years from Bethlehem. She was a junior majoring in home economics when her big break came in 1936 after friends urged her to sing a number at a local dance club. With her experience limited to productions at Liberty High School in Bethlehem, where she was voted the most popular girl and the girl with the biggest smile, she shyly took the stage. Her angelic voice fell on the ears of Bud Rader, a well-known local band leader who was sitting in the audience, and he hired her.
While still pursuing her degree, the Bethlehem native sang two or three nights a week with the band, making $5 a show. She graduated in 1937 and for the next two years was a frequent performer with the Rader band at such local dance halls as Castle Gardens, Mealey's Auditorium and the Community Park in Fogelsville.
After graduation she was hired by PPL Corp. to help introduce electric ranges to rural homemakers. Once the oven was installed, Vincie would drive in a company car to these homes where she would prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner for the housewives.
Funded by government loans to jump start the economy, the nation’s Rural Electrification Act, part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, brought electricity to country homes, improving sanitation, heating and providing running water. It was also Vincie’s job to overcome their fears, as introducing this new form of energy into country homes was considered by many to be revolutionary. In 1935 only 10 percent of rural homes had electricity.
She also demonstrated the use of electric ranges by cooking on a stove located in the PPL building’s ground floor close to the outside windows. People walking by would stop and watch her prepare meals, just like she did when she visited the area’s outlying farmhouses and country homes.
Rader and his band performed at her surprise 60th birthday party, where she entertained the well-wishers with her signature song, “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me.” Afterwards Rader presented her with the title page of that song’s sheet music, which was framed and displayed in a prominent place everywhere she lived.
Vincie volunteered at the Cedar Crest Blvd. campus of the Lehigh Valley Hospital for its first 25 years and also served on the board of the Allentown Symphony Orchestra.
She last performed formally in 1998 at her alma mater’s Tompkins College Center Theatre, where she was accompanied by longtime friend Abe Samuels on the piano, and for whom the theater would be named in his honor. Nervous from decades away from the stage, she walked up to the microphone with a cheat sheet to prompt her with the first line of ''Where or When.'' But the introduction from Samuels' piano was enough to relax and remind her of the lyrics of her youth.
''It seems we stood and talked like this before ...'' she crooned to a mostly gray-haired audience who saw not a then-82-year-old grandmother on stage but a bright, young college girl singing the day's hit songs.
Seeing her center stage again reminded one attendee of summer days spent dancing to the Rader band at Community Park. ''She was absolutely terrific and a very beautiful girl. She still is,'' he said, waiting in line during intermission to talk with the singer. After her performance another aging well-wisher came by and said, “I used to see you perform and I fell in love with you. And I’m still in love with you today.”
She sang at major events while she lived in the Luther Crest and Kirkland Village retirement communities and when she could no longer participate she continued to sing most every day with her caregivers and staff.
Shortly after celebrating her 100th birthday she sang a song to her 100-year-old first cousin in Italy, with whom she talked annually over the holidays for almost all of their adult lives. Her cousin, named after her mother Immaculata, then returned the favor with a song of her own. In Vincie’s oft repeated words, “don’t cry for me … I’ve had a good life.” And so she did, brightening the lives of everyone she met.

She is survived by her son William T. Harris III and his wife Susan of Bethlehem, daughter Susan Coker and her husband Peter, of Chapel Hill, N.C.; granddaughters Dina Dunn of Greensboro, N.C., Liza Gantert of Allentown, Catherine Kollet of Bethlehem and Emily Harris of Atlanta, Ga., grandson Peter Coker Jr. of Macau, China; great granddaughters Margaret Dunn of Greensboro, N.C. and Joelle Gantert of Allentown; and great grandsons Lee Dunn of Greensboro, N.C., Mitchell Gantert of Allentown, and Jack Garrity, of Bethlehem. She is also survived by nieces Mary Ann Covert of Allentown and Marie Scattene of Bethlehem.

She was predeceased by her husband, William T. Harris, Jr., her parents, Savino and Immaculata (Mazzagano) DeBellis, sisters Kathryn Faiolo, Louise Scattene and Clorinda (Clara) Jones; half-sister Isabel Ruicz, and half-brother Alfred Curatola.

Services will be held privately at the request of the family.

In lieu of flowers, Donations should be sent to the Cedar Crest College Office of Institutional Advancement, 100 College Drive, Allentown, PA 18104.


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