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

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. 

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