Home Depot – Marie Grillo, soon to be 102, dies from complications of Covid. Her door was always open to anyone in need.
Marie Carmella Grillo, a “super centenarian” who embodied an extraordinarily generous spirit, warmth and service to others, and whose tender acts of kindness meant opening her home to the less fortunate, died Jan. 29 in Staten Island University Hospital, Ocean Breeze, from complications due to Covid-19. She would have turned 102 on Feb. 12.
Born to Italian immigrants parents, Carmella and Antonio Valitutto in 1919, Mrs. Grillo was born in the family’s Dongan Hills home when it was customary for moms to refrain from delivering babies in health care centers.
Back in the “old country” Mrs. Grillo’s mom was a homemaker, where her kitchen was complete with a coal stove and an outhouse in the backyard.
After settling in America, Mrs. Grillo’s dad became a mechanic during the early days of the Staten Island Railroad. However, he eventually obtained a position with the city Department of Sanitation.
Like so many other European immigrants, Mrs. Grillo’s parents were hard workers who produced fruits and vegetables from their huge backyard gardens. So much so, that they stored food in sealed mason jars — enough to last for the entire season — just in case there was a shortage.
Mrs. Grillo remembered vividly a time when Hylan Boulevard was a dirt road and trolley cars were the conventional form of transportation. She remembered the days when she played games like Ringolevio, kick the can, and stick ball, recalling “walking the Staten Island Railroad with a little red wagon trailing behind and gathering pieces of coal that fell off the train cars to bring mom for the stove that was also in the family’s Dongan Hills kitchen — and going to the former Stapleton Center to take in double feature cowboy movies for just 10 cents.”
Mrs. Grillo never drove a car. She was happy to travel by train and the Staten Island Ferry anywhere she had to go — including work.
She was raised in a neighborhood where “There were a number of Italian immigrants and everyone had each other’s backs. Front doors were left unlocked, and neighbors were family, even helping out Italian prisoners who were held captive during World War II right here on Staten Island.”
She recalled prisoners being detained on Targee Street in Concord, the site where Home Depot stands today. Her family would drop care packages to prisoners over the fence.
ENTERING THE WORK FORCE AND MARRIES
A Curtis high school graduate, Mrs. Grillo entered the work force as a milliner who crafted fine ladies hats in Manhattan.
But to help with the war effort, she also worked at the U.S. Navy Base in Bayonne as a packer, a position she would hold for 15 years until 1958.
While there, after the end of World War II, she met and would eventually marry Charles Francis Grillo, who was stationed at the same base.
The couple married on Sept. 28, 1947, in St. Ann’s R.C. Church in Dongan Hills.
In time, the Grillos became the parents of two boys, Louis and Carl. Louis attended Monsignor Farrell High School in 1963 and was part of the Oakwood school’s first graduating classes, back when tuition was $15 a month.
In speaking of his mother, Louis said: “My mom was very warm-hearted and would take anyone into her home. And she would cook on any day and at any hour at a moment’s notice.”
THE CARL GRILLO GLASS HOUSE AT SNUG HARBOR
Mrs. Grillo and her family were ecstatic when after Carl graduated from college, he was instrumental in Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani’s 1993 campaign and became a member of his administration.
Carl died of cancer in December 1996 at the age of 41. Marie’s husband, Charles, had died earlier from cancer in January, 1979.
In December 1999, as a way to memorialize Carl Grillo, former Mayor Giuliani, the late Borough President Guy V. Molinari and the late Parks Commissioner Henry Stern, broke ground for a greenhouse at Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden in Livingston and named it The Carl Grillo Glass House.
MRS. GRILLO’S FAVORITE PASTIMES
Over the years Mrs. Grillo became renowned for her cooking and baking, especially at holiday time when she would whip up traditional, popular, Italian favorites.
A diehard Yankee fan, she often said, “Once the Yankees kick off the baseball season, there’s never anything else on television.”
“Marie had a great sense of humor and has entertained everyone from family, friends, and even healthcare personnel until recently,” said Mario Ferraro, Mrs. Grillo’s physical therapist, who had become like a third son. Mario and his wife, Francine, daughters, Isabella Marie, 18, Mrs. Grillo’s namesake, Nicolina, 16, and son, Mario, 15, had become Mrs. Grillo’s second family.
“Her family was her greatest joy,” said Francine Ferraro, before adding, “Marie spent all of her time cooking and feeding everyone. She loved to feed anyone who crossed her path.”
Mario Ferraro explained that when Mrs. Grillo was asked how she maintained such flawless skin, her answer was always, “Hard work, using plenty of olive oil in food and washing my face with Ivory soap.”
Mrs. Grillo continued all of her traditions at home until after she turned 100 — always with her son, Louis, at her side — until recently, when she became ill.
During her free time she especially enjoyed knitting intricate pieces of clothing for her family and friends.
To commemorate her 100th birthday, Mrs. Grillo was featured on a Smucker’s jar during a segment on the NBC “Today Show.”
SURVIVORS AND FUNERAL ARRANGEMENTS
In addition to her son, Louis, Mrs. Grillo is survived by her “adopted son,” Mario Ferraro, his wife, Francine, grandchildren Isabella Marie, Nicolina, and Mario Jr., a number of nieces and nephews and her caretakers, Harriet Burke and Shanique Jacks. She was predeceased by her brothers, Joseph (Chippy) Valitutto, Dominick Valitutto and Carmen (Nucci) Valitutto.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by the Cherubini McInerney Funeral Home in Port Richmond. Visitation is Thursday at 10 a.m. with a Mass in St. Ann’s R.C. Church, Dongan Hills at 11 a.m. Burial will follow in Moravian Cemetery, New Dorp. Full Covid-19 restrictions will be enforced.