JACKSONVILLE BEACH, Fla. — The best gifts often come in the smallest packages, and Joy Casino is proof of that.
The 98-year-old lives at an assisted living apartment in the Mayport area after raising a family in Jacksonville Beach.
But it's all the things that happened in between, during her lifetime, that are truly astonishing. It began with her determined decision to enlist in the Navy during World War II.
"My three brothers joined," she said, including her own twin brother. "I was walking around Johnson City, Tennessee and I saw a big sign, and it was Uncle Sam pointing his finger, and it said 'I need you.'"
That was her cue. She says after that, she walked into the recruiter's office.
"And when I walked back out, I was in the Navy," she says.
But there were some challenges for her before she could head to boot camp. Her tiny frame was the biggest issue.
"I weighed 92 pounds, and they said the minimum weight was 95."
But she's crafty, and she has a sweet tooth. That problem proved to be no problem at all for her.
She says she got a milkshake and a banana split, ate them both before her next weigh-in. That's when she hit 95 pounds.
She had vision issues too, she remembers. But her great memory fixed that. She simply memorized the letters in the eye exam, and she passed.
Her feet? Yeah, they were too small too.
She wore a size two, and the smallest the Navy had was a five.
So she took the size fives and essentially cut them in half.
"It's called half soled," she said.
It was her craftiness, her ingenuity, that led her to the perfect Navy assignment.
She would work at the Bureau of Ships in Washington, D.C. where her biggest assignment was to help in the assembly and engineering of the USS Midway.
"I know God was in control, and I was grateful for that."
It was an assignment of a lifetime, because a sailor -- who she outranked by two pay grades -- named Danny Casino would eventually serve on that ship.
Danny and Joy got married.
She got out of the Navy after World War II to raise their six children, moving across the country with each new assignment with her husband.
At one point, she recalls the Greyhound trip from Key West to Jacksonville with six kids and only two seat tickets.
In another incredible twist of fate, it was a different two tickets that Danny and Joy purchased in the early 2000s that highlights their story.
The two would always spend $5 on a Fantasy Five ticket.
On Aug. 15, 2000, the Casinos won $39,000 on a ticket.
In April 2002 the Casinos won again, this time a ticket worth $253,000.
What did they do to celebrate?
"We went out to eat at Wendy's," Danny told the Florida Times-Union back in 2002.
Danny and Joy were married just shy of 72 years when he passed away in November 2018.
She has pictures of him all around her home, but also a special reminder of his service waves to her whenever she comes and goes from the complex where she lives.
"His flag flies at the front of Anthem Lakes [Retirement Community] at our Veteran's Memorial," she said. "It's the one that was on his coffin, I'm really proud of that."
Joy has always stayed busy, though. Gifted with a sewing machine, she made more than 10,000 dresses for little girls in need all over the world.
It all started with a project at church, she was going to make a couple dozen.
But when she ran out of material, she says she asked God if she should do some more.
"And I said, 'God, if you want me to do more of these, I'm going to need a direct sign.'"
When Joy and her husband got home from running a few errands that day, she says the materials for hundreds more dresses were sitting on her porch.
So she got to work.
"I had a whole calendar, and my goal was to make 50 a day," she said.
At 98, she says her poor vision that went all the way back to when she enlisted has finally caught up to her. She doesn't sew as much anymore, but she has a big family to keep her busy here in town.
Her daughter Patti, granddaughter Amber and great-granddaughter Ayla all have multiple stories about their "Nana."
"Tell him about the shoes."
"You gotta show him all the dresses."
"You know about the Jaguars game, right?"
All things they wanted to make sure we covered for this story, things that might not be able to make it into the confines of a television story, but find a place here.
Like, how she was the veteran of the day at the last Jaguars home game, celebrated in front of more than 50,000 fans.
She was wearing her custom-made Jaguars outfit with teal scarf too.
The younger three generations keep her calendar full of events like that. Their next big adventure will be a trip with First Coast Honor Flight to see the monuments and memorials up in Washington, D.C.
"Oh, I'm so excited for that," she said. "I am really looking forward to seeing the World War II monument."
And there seems to be plenty more stories to be written in her lifetime, as she is always on the move.
"I'm 98 and feeling great. I'm waiting to be 99, and I'll still be feeling fine. But when you hear the thunder, I'll be 100," she said, cheering and with laughter.
We'll all be listening out for the thunder.