She doesn’t just have a family tree. She has a family forest.
Its tangled roots cross the Atlantic and plunge into the soil of Italy.
Roberta “Bobby” Dean, 58, of Brimfield, can’t seem to go anywhere in Akron without bumping into someone she knows. Frequently, she runs into relatives. Even when she encounters strangers, they often share family ties.
“You sit and talk with them, and if they’re Italian, nine times out of 10, they’re related,” she said.
She recalls when she had a job filling vending machines at Consolidated Freightways in Richfield. A worker did a double take and walked up to her.
“You know you look really familiar to me,” he told her. “Yeah … we’re related.”
The next day, he brought in an old picture that had been on display in his family’s home since he was a boy.
“You know these people, don’t you?” he said.
She was startled to see a wedding photo of her parents, Marian and Hank Cores. Her mother was his mother’s cousin.
“See, I told you,” he said.
Dean has been working on genealogy for quite some time, poring over family records and exploring online databases.
On her family tree, she has found several variations of Italian names: Liberti, Libertin, Libertine, Liberati and Liberatta as well as Colello, Colelli and Colella. Other surnames include Letta, Pisegna, Elio, Chuifo, Trevilli, Fiocca, Basilone, Rock, Bowers and Cooper.
“I’m finding three and four different spellings on stuff,” Dean said. “I guarantee the spellings are going to be incorrect in some places.”
The name that she keeps circling back to, though, is her maternal great-grandmother, Maria Carmina Bianchi Liberati Colello, who was born in 1882 in the village of Capistrello in the province of L’Aquila in the Abruzzo region of Italy.
Married at age 15, she became the mother of 21 children (19 girls and three boys), although only 13 survived into adulthood, including Dean’s grandmother, Elizabeth Elio. Maria, also known as Mary, and her first husband, Dominic Liberati, immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century, initially settling in Pennsylvania.
Mary didn’t speak or write English, but she studied hard and became a U.S. citizen.
When Liberti died, his widow and several young children moved to Akron, where they made a home with her second husband, Angelo Colello. The couple divorced in 1932, and Mary Colello raised seven children on her own in the Great Depression.
To help fill in the blanks, Dean turned to “Uncle Rambo,” her great-uncle.
Armando Colella, 92, of Tallmadge, sat at his kitchen table with daughters Christina Thomas, Rosemary Cochran and Lisa Siesel to discuss his childhood and his “Mama.”
He was born in 1926 on North Street in Akron’s old “Little Italy” and moved as a boy with his family to Manitou Avenue in Goodyear Heights. He vaguely recalls his father, who wasn’t very nice to his mother.
“I remember they was arguing at one point. And I went over and started hitting him. And my mother said, ‘You don’t hit your father.’ She said that’s their business. I was too young to understand what was going on.”
After the divorce, Mary Colello raised the family with the help of $12 every two weeks from general relief, a day’s supply of meat every Monday from the government and a bag of flour every week to make bread. The family raised chickens and grew a garden.
“We was very poor,” Colella said. “I mean, poor people were richer than us.”
He and his brothers Tony and Dominic had to share one bed.
“It wasn’t too crowded,” he said. “We all got along.”
Mary Colello had black hair, stood about 5 feet tall and spoke broken English. She was a tough cookie who looked after her family and taught her kids values. When beggars came to the door, she spared what she could.
“They were hungry, she would feed them,” he said.
Long before Sylvester Stallone, little Armando earned the nickname “Rambo” because he was always “rambling around.”
One time as a boy, Rambo found a bunch of bananas in the kitchen and ate every last one.
“We didn’t have bananas,” Colella said. “That was like eating candy.”
He recalls family meals with pasta and homemade bread. His mother told stories about Italy. His brother Dominic played the accordion. The relatives drank wine and played bocce.
“We didn’t have nothing, but we had good times,” he said.
When the United States entered World War II, Colella joined the Army and served as a paratrooper in the Pacific. His brothers Tony and Dom served in Europe.
“My mother all the time when we was in the service, she got on her hands and knees and prayed for us on a hard floor,” Colella said. “She prayed to St. Anthony.”
All three boys returned safely from the war.
As the kids grew up, got married and moved out, they continued to gather once a week on Manitou Avenue.
“Every Sunday, we all met at my mother’s house,” Colella said. “We always had pasta and meatballs.”
Mary Colello and her children became local celebrities in the 1940s and 1950s when the Beacon Journal wrote about their family reunions. In 1955, the family rented the Carovillese Lodge on North Hill for Mary’s 73rd birthday party. By then, she had 32 grandchildren and 13-great-grandchildren.
She was 76 when she died in 1958. The funeral was at Church of the Annunciation with burial at Holy Cross Cemetery.
“She was just a good mother,” said Colella, one of only two siblings left from 21.
Bobby Dean and her second cousins Christina Thomas, Rosemary Cochran and Lisa Siesel are organizing a family reunion from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 13 at the Carovillese Lodge. Relatives who would like to attend can call Bobby Dean at 330-701-6477 — or tell her when they inevitably bump into her around town.
Diagramming the family tree can be fun. For example, Colella is one year younger than his niece who is 93. The branches have hundreds of relatives.
“Every time we go somewhere, there’s a relative,” Thomas said. “Our friends say that about us: You’ve got relatives everywhere.”
A big reunion will be nice. Just like the old days, Armando Colella looks forward to seeing the family gather again.
“We had good times together,” he said.
Mark J. Price can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 330-996-3850.