Tribute to an Exceptional Mother
Irma Scenna Giampolo
December 2, 1919 – March 24, 2014
“In every gesture dignity and love.” I read these words, written about my mother, in her 1938 Taylor Allderdice yearbook. She lived those words every day of her life. That was her grace. That was what came naturally to her. She was a devoted wife, mother, and friend, and although she never studied to become any of those, she instinctively knew how to fulfill each role. My mother also didn’t study to become a teacher, but she was my greatest teacher.
It is hard to describe the essence of my mother, because how can one truly describe love? Writers and poets have been attempting that paramount task since the beginning of literature, and there are not enough words in our language to adequately describe such a complex concept. You can talk about the functions of love, but love itself is only understood through experience. I have been truly blessed throughout my entire life in experiencing that type of indescribable love, by having the great fortune to be my mother’s son.
My mother had the rare gift of being able to transform others simply by being near them. She had a beautiful welcoming aura, and everyone who met my mother walked away with an elevated sense of self-worth. I know my father, brother, sister, and nephew would echo what I am about to say, that my mother was always present for the defining moments of our lives. She also taught me the tremendous power of gratitude and to always be grateful for what someone does for you. Any small gesture I would offer, from giving her a glass of water to helping her into the car, always was acknowledged with her enchanting and heart-warming smile, and a thank you.
My mother instinctively knew that you love each person differently. Where her children were concerned, she loved us by putting us first. She made numerous personal sacrifices to make certain that all of our needs were fulfilled, and that we were happy. She didn’t want worldly possessions; she only wanted the best for each one of us.
When I attended grade school, my mother would prepare my little brown lunch bag every day. Though this was a small gesture in and of itself, I was always proud and happy with her labor of love. Whenever there was an emergency or inclement weather, she was at the door waiting to take her children home from school. Our family very seldom ate fast food. Nearly every meal we ate was home cooked, and those who ate her cooking and baking knew that it was exceptional.
She would have liked for me to be a choirboy, but I just can’t carry a tune. So she encouraged my aspirations to be an altar boy. My mother never compared me to anyone and always accepted me as I am, teaching me simply to do my best. She taught me to respect the nuns and priests and the good people in authority.
When I was 12 years old, my mother gave me one of her most precious gifts of love. Some teenage boys in the neighborhood were arrested for stealing, and my mother took me aside one day and said to me, “Don’t ever steal. If you need something, just ask. If your father and I don’t have it, we will find a way to get it.” For a 12-year-old boy, that was a defining moment. In that moment my mother instilled in me a deep sense of belonging and security, the very first function that love should provide.
It was at this same age that she taught me to house paint, and every year we would paint both the inside and outside of our house. It was an arduous job that she had previously done on her own, without complaint.
In high school, when I was required to wear a tie and sport coat at Central Catholic, my shirts were always starched and pressed. High school was also the time that I experienced my first heartbreak, which came with the end of a relationship. My mother was there to see me through that strange and difficult emotional time.
When I turned 21 and would venture out with my friends, returning home around midnight, she would always be awake. Her excuse was that there was some laundry or ironing that needed doing, that the floor needed a good cleaning, or some other household chore had to be completed. But I knew that the real reason she stayed awake was to make certain that I came home safely.
Another defining moment in my relationship with my mother came when I decided to move to Hawaii. Although my mother would have preferred for me to stay in Pittsburgh, her love for me never allowed her to stand in the way of my freedom and my destiny. It was at that time when she again showed me her extraordinary depth of loving. I was embarking on a journey that would eventually help lead to a change in the course of Hawaiian history. The symbol I used to make that change was street light structures. While others abandoned me for thinking that I was out of touch with reality for focusing on this particular symbol of oppression in Hawaii, my mother was there for me, even though she had little understanding of the meaning behind that symbol. She taught me that love is sufficient unto itself, and that with unconditional and boundless love, one doesn’t need anything else, including understanding.
My mother had a profound sense of wisdom that she would express in ways easy to understand. When she and my father were in their eighties, my father’s eyesight began to fail and my mother developed arthritis that limited the use of her hands. She said to my father something very simple that sums up the beauty of marriage. She said to him, “I’ll be your eyes, you be my hands.” In this one moment, she captured the essence of love, devotion, and partnership.
Some of the greatest treasures of my life were either taught to me or reinforced by my mother in the last few years of her life, when she had a condition that I would simply describe as memory loss. Though that condition may have taken away many of the things that my mother was able to do on a daily basis, it never took away the essence of her person.
In the initial stages of that medical condition, I watched her face the dread of losing her sense of self. She did so with tremendous courage, perseverance, and conviction. She never blamed anyone or lashed out in anger as to why such a tragedy was happening to her. She faced the challenge with her trademarks of dignity and love.
My mother impressed upon me that even with her limited memory, what you remember most about people is the true nature of their being. We would take a walk up Boundary Street and sit on a bench, and I would tell her the names of the people who lived there, from one end of the street to the other. She would pause and make a short comment at each house, usually about how she really liked the person, for my mother always looked for the good in others.
As my mother lived with her medical condition, she taught me to look to the future and never give up hope. When I would say to her, “Every day in every way you are getting better and better,” she would simply reply, “I hope so.”
In the last few years of her life she also taught me to live in the moment and to do what you can, and not to dwell upon the past or what you cannot do. One of my mother’s skills was to remember the lyrics to numerous songs that she knew. Miraculously, this skill did not disappear as her memory deteriorated. I made a CD of her favorite songs, and she knew all the words to most of those songs. It was a joy to sing those songs over and over again with her. Those musical experiences with her reinforced in me the knowledge that, in spite of our many modern medical advances, the brain is still a mystery.
Finally, my mother reinforced in me the simple notion that having fun is a fundamental human purpose in life, and it should continue for the entirety of our lives. My mother and I had innumerable precious moments of laughter together in the last few years of her life, from her many witty comments to pretending that we just arrived from the old country in Italy as we would speak to each other in broken English. We would laugh together when I would say to her “budda bing budda bang” to express how my heart felt when she would kiss me on the cheek.
My mother had a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother and often prayed the rosary. She also prayed very intently before a statue of the Virgin Mary, mother-to-Mother, and said that many of her special intentions were answered.
There will be no canonization ceremony for my mother, but in my eyes she stands equal to all of those individuals who have received that saintly honor.
I will close with words that I wish I could say with my mother once again, “I love you, forever and a day.”
Carl “Gimp” Giampolo
December 25, 1915 – May 30, 2015
GIAMPOLO, CARL 99
Freyvogel Sons Inc.
4900 Centre Ave At Devonshire St,
Pittsburgh PA 15213
Tuesday, June 2, 2015, 12:01 a.m.
Carl Giampolo never missed a day during five decades of working construction, ushering at Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium and caring for his wife in the last years of their 72-year marriage.
“His devotion to his children and my mother was incredible,” daughter Carol Giampolo Speck said. “He gave with all his heart and never looked back.”
Carl Giampolo, born in Oakland’s Panther Hollow neighborhood on Dec. 25, 1915, died peacefully Saturday, May 30, 2015. He was 99.
A decorated World War II veteran, Mr. Giampolo was a sergeant in the 3606th Quartermaster Truck Company of Gen. Mark Clark’s Fifth Army in Africa and in the liberation of Rome in June 1944.
When the war ended, Mr. Giampolo returned to Panther Hollow, where he worked for Dan DiNardo Construction Co. and then the City of Pittsburgh Public Works Department. Mr. Giampolo worked a second job for 55 years as an usher at Forbes Field and Three Rivers Stadium.
Giampolo Speck said she doesn’t recall her father missing a day of work — or a single ball game — and he retired from the public works department with the maximum number of sick and vacation days unused.
“He carried that through to us,” she said. “My work ethic came from my father.”
As an usher stationed behind home plate at the ball parks, where the players’ families sat, Mr. Giampolo befriended them as well as some of the players, son Carlino Giampolo said.
“He was conscientious about his responsibilities,” Carlino Giampolo said.
Mr. Giampolo was interviewed for the Senator John Heinz History Center‘s Italian American Program, as well as for a PBS-TV special about Panther Hollow. Carlino Giampolo said his father helped him compile a history of the neighborhood, contributing hundreds of neighbors’ nicknames and women’s maiden names from his childhood. Mr. Giampolo’s keen memory was tied to his genuine attention to friends’ and neighbors’ lives, Carlino Giampolo said.
“He was interested in people,” he said. “He would always ask about you and remember what you had talked about before.”
Mr. Giampolo’s wife, Irma Scenna Giampolo, died in March 2014. Surviving are children Carlino Giampolo of Hawaii, Carol Giampolo Speck of Kennedy and Gary Giampolo of Oakland; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be from 1 to 7 p.m. Wednesday in John A. Freyvogel Sons Inc. in Oakland. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Thursday in St. Paul Cathedral.
Katherine Schaeffer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.
Gary Vincent Giampolo
April 22, 1954 – November 28, 2016
At age 62, a life-long resident of Panther Hollow in the Oakland neighborhood passed away on Monday, November 28, 2016. He is the beloved son of the late Carl and Irma Scenna Giampolo and is survived by son, Gary Scalise (Lorraine); grandchildren, Alexis and Dante; brother, Carlino; and sister, Carol Speck (Regis). He is also survived by aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends who loved Gary. He graduated from Central Catholic High School and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology at Duquesne University. Throughout his life, he worked for various corporations and was a self-employed entrepreneur in construction and home remodeling. He was an active participant in the community and a member of St. Paul Cathedral and the Ryan Catholic Newman Center. His quick wit and colorful array of different hats brought laughter and joy to friends and acquaintances. Throughout his life, he was a very generous giver of his time and talents to others. He loved spending most of his free time with family and friends, driving to Seven Springs, and selling antiques at flea markets. His generosity extended beyond death when many of his vital organs were donated to CORE (Center for Organ Recovery and Education). Friends will be received Thursday 2-4 and 6-8 p.m. at John A. Freyvogel Sons, Inc., 4900 Centre Avenue at Devonshire Street (freyvogelfuneralhome.com). Funeral Friday, Mass of Christian Burial St. Paul Cathedral 10 a.m. Remembrances in Gary’s name may be made to Central Catholic High School.
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By Dr. Al Hergenroeder
(Written the day following Gary’s death)
I can’t begin to describe the depth of my friendship with Gary in the time that I have here. I have not physically seen Gary since 2009, but I can tell you our friendship was such that having not seen him physically in seven years, I talked to him at least once a year, and sometimes twice a year, and our friendship would be immediately rekindled every time.
From freshman year in high school through senior year in medical school, Gary and I were inseparable. When we were freshmen at Central, I would bring four sandwiches for lunch: two meats and two peanut butter and jelly, and the sandwiches would be made on this great bakery shop bread from a German bakery in Bloomfield. Gary would bring these great salami sandwiches that his mom would make. We would trade because he was tired of salami sandwiches, and I was tired of peanut butter and jelly, so we had this immediate bond over peanut butter and jelly and salami sandwiches.
We went to Central dances together and got Willy Kunsman to buy some 99-cent wine, so we would drink wine together and go to the dance and have a big time. We told each other about our dreams. We told each other about things we were worried about, and we listened to music and danced, and we made each other laugh. Oh, did we laugh. He was gifted at turning a phrase.
Day by day, experience by experience, we were building an indelible relationship, a relationship that would be separated by time and space but nonetheless indelible. In college, Gary went to Dayton and I started at Pitt. After a year, he came back and went to Duquesne and we picked right back up.
We did everything together. We hung out on the weekends. I was part of his family and he was part of mine. Our senior year in college, Berto, Charlie, and I rented a house up on Meyran Avenue and Gary was there probably half of the time. He slept on the couch; he ate with us; he cooked with us. Then, I started medical school and moved into my own apartment, and I made a whole new circle of friends with my med school buddies, but every social function I went to where it was appropriate, Gary was there. I think half of my class thought that Gary was part of the medical school class because he was at so many functions. He made great friends with Jimmy V., Mike Sheri, Mike Patterson, and Ruth Ehrman. They all loved Gary.
We had our first Al and Gary Pasta Fagioli Festival at my apartment. Gary stayed up at home making the noodles until two or three in the morning, and then brought them up and cooked at my apartment. About 25 people ate, then we went to a Pitt football game, then we came back and ate again—25 people, and the folks who didn’t grow up in the rich Italian culture we grew up in were tasting food like this—and then we went to see Animal House.
We had a second Pasta Fagioli Festival that was just as successful.
Between my freshman and sophomore years of medical school, I worked in New Mexico; that happened to be the year that my father retired. I couldn’t get back for my parents 65th retirement celebration but I convinced them to drive to New Mexico and have a trip out west; they were only able to do it because Gary was going to come with them and share the driving. My mom didn’t drive. Gary, my mom and dad, and I went through New Mexico to the Grand Canyon, Las Vegas, and Zion National Park. It was the trip of a lifetime for my parents, all made so by Gary. When we get back, my dad, having worked all his life and retired, really had nothing to do and wanted some sort of job on the side. Gary said, “Well, I’ll get you in the ushers union down in Three Rivers Stadium.” I can’t tell you how grateful my dad was to Gary that he was able to get a position. It brought him joy to go down to Pirate games and Steeler games, all made possible by Gary.
I then moved to North Carolina for my residency and Gary, Berto, Ronnie, and a couple of others came down. We went to Myrtle Beach a couple of years and had great times down at the beach. I met my wife GiGi and got married in Chapel Hill North Carolina and Gary, Berto, Ronnie, AJ Ceradini, and my brother Paul were ushers in the wedding. Then I moved around a bit, lived in Texas for 30 years, but every year, I’d write Gary and the Giampolo family a Christmas card and call him at Thanksgiving or Christmas. And the friendship was rekindled.
In 2009, I came back with my three kids for a Hergenroeder family reunion; they had not been to Pittsburgh before. We got off the plane and went to Primanti Bros. Restaurant on the strip. I brought them up to Cathedral of Learning and walked around the nationality rooms, went to Saint Regis where I went to grade school, and went to my old house on McKee Place. Then, we drove down to Boundary St. because I was on my way to the reunion and didn’t have a lot of time. I pull up in front of Gary’s house in the summer. It’s a sunny day, and there’s Gary laying on the lounge chair sunning, working on his tan. I come out the car and I said, “Gary.” He looks up and he says, “Cump, how you doing?” Just as if we had seen each other last week. We went inside and sat down and Irma and Gimp wanted to fix all kinds of food for us to eat. I said, I’d love to stay but I’ve got to go to my sister’s and arrange this big reunion, but I just wanted to come by and say hello. Here we were, 29 years after I left Pittsburgh, I pull up unannounced and they want me to sit down, eat, and be part of the family again, because things never changed. I was part of the Giampolo family and that was never going to change.
So when I say I can’t express the depth of our friendship, I tried to give you a glimpse of it, and I know it was a friendship based on loyalty and love. My life is enriched by my friendship with Gary and I thank God for that friendship. The night Berto called me to let me know that Gary died, I was in my kitchen. I hung up, and I was with GiGi and I was upset. I closed my eyes to be still because the Bible, Psalm 46, tells us to be still. I closed my eyes and Gary’s face came to me and he said, “It’s gonna be OK, Cump. It will be alright.” And he said it in a reassuring way, a calm way that only Gary could’ve said. It was gonna be alright. So Gary, I know it’s gonna be all right eventually. I know I will be able to talk to you just like I’m talking to you now, and I know you will answer me just like you did the other night, but right now, I miss you, I love you, and you made my life so much richer. Thank you for being my friend.