view of Salandra, Matera, Basilicata, Italy by Antonio DiPersia

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Remembering Felicia Ambruso and Lawrence Mancini

Phyllis Ann Mancini Pernia, daughter of Rocco Mancini and granddaughter of Felicia Ambruso and Lawrence Mancini has recently posted photos and memories of her grandparents on  The photo above shows Felicia and Lawrence on the couch in their Garfield home with son Rocco.  It was taken about 1950.  Phyllis Ann’s remembrances of her grandparents stirred memories of my own.  I remember being in that blonde-colored brick house on Harrison Avenue that was built by Lawrence himself.  I remember the house was always very neat and proper.  Felicia took great pride in the cleanliness of her home.  She was a bundle of energy and enthusiasm.
When I was a young boy, Uncle Lawrence always pinched my cheek when he greeted me.   I hated it, but he was always smiling and did it in a loving way.  For some reason, I remember him as always wearing a bow tie.  He was a bricklayer and stone mason, but he was also a stone carver.  I remember the impressive fireplace he personally designed and built in their living room.  He had carved the heads of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln and himself in marble.  He was an artist.
His oil paintings were on display throughout the house.  I was never impressed with his simple style of artwork, but I was always fascinated by the fact that someone in my family actually had the initiative and desire to take brush to canvas and created a painting.  No one else in the family did that.  At that point in my life, he was the only real oil painter I had ever met.  Without realizing it then, his creative spirit probably contributed to my own artistic attempts in painting when I was young.   Today, art is an important part of my life and I can totally understand his need to create art and express himself.  Thank you, Uncle Lawrence.

Oil painting by Lawrence Mancini

Friday, June 10, 2016

Remembering Eugenio "John" Ambruso (1892 - 1973)

Eugenio "John" Ambruso

Eugenio Ambruso came to the United States in October of 1900 with his father Giuseppe and his older brother Michele.  The three went to stay with Eugenio’s uncle Frank on Mildred Street in South Philadelphia.  Eugenio’s mother, Maria, came over with the rest of the family in 1901. 

Eugenio had little formal education, however he always stressed the importance of a good education to his children and grandchildren.  From all indication, he was a hard worker and a real go-getter.  According to his World War 1 Draft Registration Card, when he 18 he worked as a farm laborer near Moorestown, NJ.  Two years later, in 1920, he married Carmella Laino. For most of his adult life he was known as John Ambruso, not Eugenio.  Carmella was always called “Millie”.

He worked as a pinch press operator for Pillings & Sons, Surgical Instruments for over 20 years.  However, John was also a successful real estate investor.  His granddaughter says that he owned eleven properties in South Philadelphia. 

Even though he worked hard, John Ambruso found time for enjoying life.  He played bocce, and he played it well.  He was a perennial champion in the South Philadelphia leagues winning several trophies and having his picture in the newspaper.  He was a big Philadelphia baseball fan, especially of the old Philadelphia Athletics.  He never got over them moving west to Kansas City. 

John loved music.  He often listened to opera and was a great fan of Caruso.  He and Millie both liked Sinatra; and the Perry Como Show was a weekly ritual.  He also loved wine.  One of John’s hobbies was making homemade wine in the basement. 

John and Millie attended 7:00 AM Mass every Sunday at Epiphany of our Lord RC Church at 11th and Jackson Streets.  They were both religious.  When their grandson Eugene was young he had a serious illness.   The family vowed to say a rosary every night for his recovery.  They kept their promise and Eugene recovered.  Though John spoke perfect English, when it was his turn to say the rosary he would pray in Italian.  He also kept a prayer card in his bedroom to St. Rocco, the patron saint of Salandra.

John was very close to his mother.  He would visit his mother every day after work before he went home to his own family.  Her death in 1932 was very hard on him. Whenever he spoke of her, even years later, he would tear up.  He always told his grandchildren that “You could never pay back your mother for all that she does for you.”

Family was very important to John.  According to his granddaughter Maryanne Jordan Warrick, he always said that he never needed riches. He had his health and his family.  He couldn’t ask for more. He had two daughters, Mae and Terry, and five grandchildren.  He spent a lot of time with his grandchildren since they lived nearby.  Today they have fond memories of picking blackberries with their grandfather; or drinking milk and sugar coffee; or sitting on his knee as he told funny stories or tried to teach them Italian.

Eugenio “John” Ambruso died in Philadelphia on May 1, 1973.  He left behind a close family that shares wonderful memories and a lasting Italian-American heritage. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016


The photo above shows Eugenio “John” Ambruso with his bocce playing friends.  The photo was sent in by his granddaughter Maryanne Jordan Warrick.  It was taken in 1960 and shows the bocce players at the recreation center at 16th and Jackson Streets in South Philadelphia.  John was a bocce champ and had many trophies to prove it. 

My grandfather Michael Ambruso often told of playing bocce all Sunday afternoon in the side yard at his brother-in-law, Patsy Bonelli’s house in Garfield.  Probably drinking homemade wine from Patsy’s basement. 

Bocce was certainly a popular pastime with Italian-Americans in both South Philly and Garfield.  Can you share any memories of your Ambruso relatives playing bocce?  Were they good enough to win trophies like John Ambruso?

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Silver Dollar Inn - Tasker Street, Philadelphia

In a previous post I mentioned the fact that Michael Ambruso, son of Giuseppe, owned a tavern on Tasker Street in Philadelphia.  Thanks to his great granddaughter, Marie Collins of Ft. Lauderdale, FL, we now know the name of the tavern.  It was the Silver Dollar Inn.  Marie sent these great photos of the tavern.  She said that her grandfather, Joseph Ambruso ran the tavern with his father, Michael, and that his family lived on Tasker Street above the tavern.  According to cousin Tom Gagliardi, the wives would cook upstairs and send the food down to the bar using a dumb waiter.

I’m not sure who is who in these photos, so if anyone can identify relatives, please send me an e-mail or attach a comment to this post.  What stories do you have to share about the Silver Dollar Inn?

Extra:  Dan Collins just informed me that the short guy on the far left is his grandfather, Joseph Eugene Ambruso. 

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Featured Family Photo #4

Debbie Trail Giffone, granddaughter of Justina Ambruso Graziadei, sent me several great family photographs.  This is one of them.  It shows her, at a young age, with a pixie haircut, in the midst of several male relatives, all uncles and cousins.  It was taken in the basement of their home in Whitestone, NY in the early 1960’s at some family gathering, perhaps the confirmation of her sister Laura. 

The men surrounding little Debbie are, from left to right are: John Angiulli, Diana’s son; Little Gerard Bruno, Debbie’s first cousin and son of Isabella Graziadei Bruno; Fred Tedeschi, husband of Esther Ambruso, Nick’s daughter; Dante Saraco, son of Sylvia Ambruso Saraco; and Vince Angiulli, John’s father. 

Does anyone have any family stories to share about these people?  I’d be willing to bet that there are enough stories about Dante to fill volumes.  Send me your story.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Descendants of Justina Ambruso and Anthony Graziadei

Wedding photo of Justina Ambruso and Anthony Graziadei (1929)
My Ambruso second cousins are coming out of the woodwork!  Not one, but two grandchildren of Justina Ambruso and Tony Graziadei have contacted me recently by e-mail.  One cousin, Debbie Justina Trail Giffone, sent several family photos including the one above. 

Justina and Tony had two daughters, Rose and Isabella.  Rose married Mark Trail.  Likewise, they also had two daughters, Laura and Debra.  Rose, Mark and the girls lived in Whitestone, Queens, NY.  Rose’s sister, Isabella, married Lenny Bruno and had a son, Gerard.  Both families lived in the same house, Isabella and her family on the floor above Rose’s family.  The sisters were very close.

When Debbie was about 10 years old, Rose and her family moved to south Florida.  A few years later, Isabella and her family also moved to south Florida along with the grandparents, Justina and Tony.  The whole family was together in Florida. 

In subsequent posts, I will share some of the great family photos that Debbie has sent me.  Many are from Uncle Nick’s house in Astoria.  We’ll have fun figuring out who everybody is.

If you have any old Ambruso family photos, please send them to me like Debbie did.  She just used her smart phone to take photos of pictures in an album, and then sent them to me attached to an e-mail.  The quality might not be as good as a digitally scanned picture, but hey, they are still worth 1,000 words.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Featured Family Photo #3

This photo was taken on the front steps of Uncle Nick's house in Astoria, Queens in the late 1950's.  It shows, from left to right, my grandfather, Michael Anthony Ambruso, Angie Iula, Esther Iula, their Aunt Josephine, and Justine Ambruso Graziadei.  It is almost impossible to show old photos of my family from this period without at least one person being named Esther. 

Send your old family photos and I will post them so we can all share in the memories.