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Helen Orlando
With a GED at 78,
this Baker Rises to the Top

On March 9, 1921 Joseph and Mary Stano gave birth to their first child, Helen, in Russelville, Arkansas. Helen was followed by a brother, Joe and a sister, Lucy who both live in the Cleveland area.

Helen grew up on a farm outside of Little Rock "near Bill Clinton country." It was a very rural area with none of today's amenities such as indoor plumbing.

Her life in Arkansas was very different than the life she knows today. Her family grew soybeans and cotton, and of course there were cows for Helen to milk. She loved to bake biscuits in the morning - maybe a sign of things to come.

During a trip to Cleveland to visit an aunt, Helen met Amedeo Orlando who was delivering bread. She never actually dated him because she returned to her family in Arkansas, but they did correspond though the mail.

In one such letter Amedeo proposed and Helen wrote back her acceptance. She arrived in Cleveland on Thursday October 24, 1940 and was married on Saturday October 26, 1940.

Helen and Amedeo had three children. Bobby was their first son and he was born in 1942. A tragic illness befell him and he died when he was only three years old.

The next child was a daughter, Geraldine who is married to Gerald Miller. Geraldine has two sons, Jeffrey and Bradley. A year later their son Joseph was born. Joseph is married to Rosemary and they have three sons Joseph, Anthony and Steven.

Helen's father-in-law, John, gave the family business, The Orlando Baking Company, to his three sons. The company had been founded in 1872 in Castel di Sangro, Italy by Giustino Orlando.

Orlando Bakery store

In 1904 the family came to the United States. Two of his children went to Rhode Island and established a bakery there and his other two sons, Giuseppe (Joe) and Vincenzo came to Cleveland. They established Orlando Brothers at 1341 Central Avenue, which was Cleveland's first Italian neighborhood.

The bread was delivered by horse and buggy.

Orlando bakery bread delivery by horse

When Vincenzo passed away the company name was changed to J. Orlando and was moved to an area known as "Big Italy" at 2412 Scovill Avenue.

Orlando Bakery truck

Nicola, who had been one of the Rhode Island Orlandos, came to Cleveland and bought out the bakery. Now the name was N. Orlando Bakery. Another move took the bakery to 111th and Woodland in the Mt. Carmel neighborhood. Nicola, his wife, Maria and their six children managed the bakery. One of those children, John, was Helen's father-in-law.

By 1969 there were other deaths and other name changes and the company finally became The Orlando Baking Company that we know today.

Orlando Baking Company logo

It moved again to Grand Avenue in Cleveland where it is still located today.

The business is still family owned and operated. They have been in Cleveland for over 100 years and have no intention of going anywhere. The bakery in Italy is also still thriving.

Helen went to work at the Bakery. Over the many decades she worked there she did everything from baking to bookkeeping to real estate management. When the company moved from Woodland they converted the land to 20 homes. Helen took on the responsibility of rebuilding them, maintaining them, renting them and when necessary, evicting the tenants.

Nick Orlando has told her many times she was the only one who could have done it. She says however, "I would never want to do that again. Especially the evictions!"

Helen adores her grandchildren and is tremendously proud of all of their accomplishments - especially their education. They are all either college graduates or in college now and this means the world to her. She takes education so seriously that on December 22, 1999 at age 78 she earned her G.E.D. (high school diploma equivalency). "See, it CAN be done!" She did not want to be known as a high school drop out.

When she was first introduced to Algebra her first thought was "What did I get myself into!" and she would come home in tears. But once it clicked she loved it "I'm crazy about Algebra once I better understood the formulas it was great!"

Geometry even made sense to her once she conquered Algebra. She is quick to challenge "Do you remember your Algebra? I bet I can do more Algebra than you."

She also learned what she calls "proper English" and could write the required 200 word essays on any subject the teacher would assign. "I almost got an A too. 98% - that's as close as you can get."

She is also very proud of her beautiful penmanship. "We were never taught to write sloppy. Even at my age look how nice it is." And it is.

Her age doesn't seem to keep her from doing anything. She is very healthy and extremely fit. She walks three miles a day. She remembers walking three miles a day to school in Arkansas too and even longer when the roads washed away in rainy season and she had to go over the hills. Today if the weather is bad she gets on her treadmill.

She is a veracious reader - as long as it's not fiction. "I want cold, hard facts." Give her a biography or any non-fiction any day. She watched the Book Reviews on C-Span and gets a lot of hints from there. "The people at the library know me. I just call and tell them what I am looking for."

She is interested in politics and civic issues, but is not active in either. "It is important to stay informed and of course I vote."

Helen Orlando with son John Orlando

Helen Orlando with son John

Throughout her life Helen has been happy to accept input and advice from any source but in the end "You have to go with your own instinct. Listen to what people have to say but then go with your own instinct. Even in the stock market. Let the financial people tell you whatever they want - but in the end, make up your own mind. That's what I did."

It seems to have worked well for her through the years. She is a happy woman content with peace of mind and good health. She doesn't get angry often; "It takes a lot." She is much more interested in the positive things in life.

She doesn't travel often but she just returned from a wonderful Caribbean Cruise. "I've been a widow for forty years. Some things you do on your own, some things you don't."

She took computer lessons even though she doesn't currently have a computer. "When people talk about computers I want to know what they are talking about."

When Helen turned 80 in 2001 the Cuyahoga County Commissioners saluted her in a proclamation attesting to her standing in the community and the business arena in Cleveland.

Helen says she is too modest to describe herself as a role model - "That's not for me to say." It is not difficult to see however that she is just that.

From a poor rural home in Arkansas to a major contributor in a thriving business, Helen has shown the spunk and strength of character we all strive for. When she enrolled in a GED class in her seventies she showed the world that nothing was going to stop her, least of all her age. She refuses to sit down and "get old"; she's got too much living to do.

Helen may be too modest to say it, but people young or not-so-young would do well to walk in her footsteps - if they could keep up!

Profiled by Debbie Hanson

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Helen Orlando of Orlando Baking

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