Tony became a part of our family when he and my sister Joni finally met after admiring him from a distance for many years. As Joni remembers: “For 13 years, I would see Tony in Little Italy,” and she would remark to whomever she was with, “That man with the ponytail sang happy birthday to me.” Then, in 2012, in front of Angelo’s Nido Italia restaurant, they formally met when he offered her a drink. His offer was met with a “No, thank you” but when she was offered cannoli, Joni’s eyes widened, and Tony knew he had struck the right chord with her. Of course, we all remember that famous quote from “The Godfather.” No one can resist the most beloved of Italian desserts!
Tony was a self-taught landscape designer/architect who drew everything by hand. With a discerning eye, he would scan a space and instantly know how to transform it into a beautiful outdoor setting, waterfall, pond, garden, or hardscape.
Kind and soft-spoken, Tony was generous and a man of faith. His calling to be a person who served came one day at a men’s retreat and changed the course of his life. Although Holy Rosary in Little Italy was his home church, he attended other Catholic churches depending on where he was working and devoted much of his free time to many religious causes. He supervised the volunteers at Tremont’s Saint Augustine Hunger Shelter every holiday working with Sister Corita.
Tony also designed the landscape at the Cornerstone of Hope Bereavement Center where he designed the gardens, the gazebo and the Stations of the Cross. Lastly, his work on the Feast of the Assumption Committee every year entailed many days of preparation, from set-up to tear-down. He was one of the men, portatori, who carried the Blessed Virgin from Holy Rosary Church through the streets of Little Italy in the procession. He supported Italian arts and culture in Cleveland, volunteering at the Opera and One World Day in the Italian Cultural Garden and promoted Italian businesses, including many in Little Italy.
We had the pleasure of working with Tony numerous times and his message to the volunteers, “Today you think you are giving the gift when in fact you are receiving the gift,” was truly our experience.
Everyone in Little Italy knew and loved Tony. The neighborhood had special meaning to him since his grandparents emigrated from Italy and moved to “The Hill.” Before meeting Joni, like many single or retired men in Italy, he would sit outside with the “guys” on the corner either at Presti’s Bakery, near Holy Rosary Church, or at the “power table” at La Dolce Vita on the corner of Murray Hill and Mayfield Rd. where everyone would stop by and talk to him.
Tony was 75 when he passed away on September 25, 2020. Compassionate and passionate, kind and generous, he loved people, especially his family and community, Little Italy. All who knew him loved him back. A Mass of Christian burial was held on September 30, 2020 at Holy Rosary Church followed by a luncheon at La Dolce Vita. In October, there was an outdoor gathering at Cornerstone of Hope where family and friends told touching stories about Tony. It was a time to laugh and cry and console each other. There will be a Paver Dedication Ceremony at Cornerstone of Hope’s Prayer Garden on August 24, 2021 with a “cornerstone” to commemorate Tony’s life, an exceptional life of fellowship and service. It will be a time to hug and kiss and celebrate him once again.