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By Linda Thomas
Hometown Weekly Correspondent
Amidst the fear and adversity from immigrating to America, a young boy from Abruzzi, Italy found inspiration for a better life in the joy of a silver dollar — a fortune to a child and a pathway to his dreams.
On August 8, 1955, 16-year-old Luciano “Louie” Antonio Berardi and his family made the voyage to the United States on the SS Andrea Doria.
They arrived here 63 years ago with the help of then-Sen. John F. Kennedy and Berardi’s uncle Giacomo, who sponsored the family of seven.
Soon after arriving on Liberty Island in New York Harbor, the family went on to Boston and settled in Jamaica Plain.
The oldest of six brothers, Berardi never had a chance to get a formal education; instead, he worked at odd jobs to help support the family while his father opened a neighborhood market on the first floor of a three-decker at which the family lived on the second floor.
“My father needed help,” he said. “And years ago, you had to help your family before you did anything else. So, school wasn’t for me then.”
Everything was new and exciting to the teenager when first he began his new life in America.
In one of his earliest memories, his aunt presented him with a coin to celebrate his arrival.
Was it valuable, he wondered?
“It’s a silver dollar,” he remembers her telling him.
His eyes nearly popped out of his head, and the words sputtered from his mouth.
“I’m a rich man.”
Berardi and his wife, Phyllis, have called Westwood home for nearly 50 years and raised three children: daughters Anna and Rosanna, and son Louie.
Over the years, he’s owned several businesses including a barbershop, hair salon, wig salon and commercial property.
“I came from Italy with no education,” he said. “I was aggressive and did well all my life. But I should have smartened myself up a little bit more.
“As a property owner running several apartments, you had to have someone who knew how to write, to prepare eviction notices, fill out papers and go to court,” he said. “It was unbelievable … but somehow I made it through.”
Berardi’s oldest child, Anna Maple, said that had her father gone to school or college in the United States, he might have succeeded far beyond his many accomplishments.
Nevertheless, his work ethic was - and still is - strong.
“It was non-stop,” he recalls. I’d come home from work and I had to work in the yard. I did this and that and was always on the go, plus managing more than 40 apartments.”
Berardi remembers cutting hair at the barbershop, often looking out the window and thinking to himself, “There’s got to be something better than what we’re doing here.”
An opportunity came when his brother gave him $2,000 and he got a second mortgage on his house so he could buy a building with commercial stores near Jamaica Pond.
Berardi was born on Dec. 17, 1938, and grew up in the town of Pescara on the Adriatic side in the Abruzzo region.
He was 6 when his mother died, leaving him and his younger brother. His father remarried and had four more sons.
As a teenager in Italy he worked in carpentry for a year but earned no money.
In America, he worked at those odd jobs, making 75 cents an hour. As a 16-year-old, he packed tomatoes on Commercial Street in Boston, and worked for a short time in a shoe factory in Cambridge. That lasted a couple of years. He worked for a barber for two years then went to school to get his barber’s license. After that, he managed to get a license as a hair stylist.
Phyllis, also born and raised in Italy, settled with her family in Jamaica Plain, too.
Meeting her was “the best thing I ever did,” he said. Next April 30, the couple will celebrate their 57th wedding anniversary.
“She had a little more education and I would sometimes ‘steal’ her brain,” he smiled.
Phyllis went to school when their kids were growing up. And in 1958, after Berardi opened his salon in Jamaica Plain, she worked with him. Eventually, he operated the barbershop, and she the hair salon.
Berardi was a member of the Boston Parkway Lions Club for 45 years, and joined other clubs including Kiwanis and the Knights of Columbus.
“The thing that impresses me the most, which might embarrass him a little, because he never went to school here, is he had me create a cheat sheet of numbers and how they are spelled so that when he wrote a check he could use it for accuracy,” Maple said.
“This same man had a cell phone before me and does his banking online. He will be 80 in December, and is still a property owner — the best landlord you could ask for.
“Every time I think of what he has accomplished, I get chocked up,” she said. “He lives for his family — a beautiful wife of 56 years, three children, eight grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.”
Daughter Rosanna Pelosi says to know her father is to love him.
“He is the most unique individual … he’s so giving and so loving,” she said. “The way he is with other people and how he gets them mesmerized just by talking to him.
“I love him, honestly, just for being who he is. You could be in a room with him and he lights up the whole room.”
When his children were younger, Pelosi remembers swimming in their pool and enjoying the warm summer days with family.
“Instead of saying ‘get out of the pool,’ he’d say — in his inimitable Italian accent — ‘get off my pool.’
“We all knew what he meant, but we’d stay in the pool anyway,” she said. “And he would keep saying, ‘get off my pool.’ We knew it was broken English. We didn’t make fun of him, but were rather endeared by him.
“To this day, we are still endeared by him and the love he gets when he makes us all his favorite lamb on the skewer and homemade bread from his hometown in Italy. He just loves his family around him. And he invites our friends to his home and puts out a big spread and makes everybody laugh.
“He likes to be around younger people … it engages him,” she said. “It makes him feel young and we try to make him feel young.”
Health issues have always been an ongoing struggle for Berardi as far back as the early 1970s. He nearly died from a ruptured appendicitis, and underwent open-heart surgery at the age of 41.
But he has always bounced back, Pelosi said. And once he recovers and feels better, he gets back out and enjoys his daily walks around town.
“I get my strength from him.”
Luciano Angelo Berardi, the youngest of Berardi’s three children, says his father taught him carpentry skills as early as eight years old.
“He has taught me a lot of the basics,” young Louie said, “and as time went by, I became very good at working with my hands.
“My father is a smart guy. He taught me yard work and gardening. With him, it was all work. He wasn’t into sports. I was. So, we connected with the projects he’d come up with, either at the apartment buildings or yard work.
“I’ve been around a lot of people and have never seen anyone with the ambition that he has. He’ll put something in his head and it would just get done. It didn’t matter what it was … from the smallest projects to the biggest.”
The younger Berardi says his father’s energy level has not diminished.
“He just has this uncanny drive I’ve never seen before.”
Perhaps for the elder Berardi, his timing was also uncanny.
A year after Berardi arrived in America, other Italian immigrants aboard the Andrea Doria and bound for New York City were so close to realizing their own American dreams. But 50 of the 1,700 passengers and crew were killed when the icon of Italian national pride sank off the coast of Nantucket, MA.
A recent reminder of that tragedy has given Berardi pause.
And so, he mused.
“It could have been me.”
Editor’s Note: Linda Thomas writes for Hometown Weekly Publications, Inc. For comments and suggestions, she can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.