Editor’s note: This is the seventh installment of stories about Fulton Families. The monthly series will tell the stories of families that have either lived in Fulton for ages or perhaps only a short while — but the common bond will be they love the city and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. If you know of a family we should highlight, please email Debbie Groom, Valley News managing editor, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Ashley M. Casey
“One of Fulton’s Largest Families: Vescio’s 12 Children Range From 5 Months to 18 Years” reads the 1934 Post-Standard clipping’s headline.
Although the story is 80 years old, it’s not unlike headlines found in The Valley News today. Now, the Vescios’ appearance in the local media has come full circle.
Of the 14 children born to Angelo and Rosina Vescio, only 12 lived to adulthood. Today, four of the original Vescio children are alive in Fulton: Joe, Sam, Ellen and June. Sam Vescio, now 87, and his daughter, Rosemary Vescio Pollard, shared their story of what keeps them in the city that their clan has called home for more than a century.
Muck and more
Three years after emigrating from Italy to Fulton, Angelo Vescio met his match. His friend, Joseph Crai, had a sister back in the “old country” who would make a good wife for Angelo. On Oct. 5, 1913, Rosina Crai married Angelo Vescio.
“She was a beautiful lady,” Sam recalled of his mother. “We lost the heart of the family when she died.”
When Rosina died in childbirth in 1937, when Sam was 10, eldest daughter Angie took over as the family’s main caretaker.
“She was our ‘mother’ when our mother died. She took care of us. She gave us all the orders, did all the cooking, the cleaning, and everything,” Sam said. “When she said something you had a mind to it — boy, she’d knock you for a loop!”
Angie died not long after her 94th birthday in July 2013.
The Vescios worked the muck in Fulton, planting onions, lettuce, carrots and celery. They also raised and slaughtered goats. Sam and his seven brothers each began working on the farm at about age 6.
“We used to work from 6 o’clock in the morning until 6 o’clock at night on our hands and knees in the hot sun, all eight of us boys,” Sam said. “When we got older, we had to get up at 3 ‘o’clock in the morning and cut 300 crates of lettuce, ship it for the buyer, and we’d have to go to school.”
After his stint as a farmer, Angelo worked at Peter Cailler Kohler, the predecessor to the Nestlé plant. His sons, Phillip and Carmen, worked there as well, until Carmen — known as “Cammy” to the family — became a builder.
Carmen, Phillip and Frank worked for Walter Bradley before Carmen struck out on his own.
“Uncle Frankie lost his two fingers. He caught them in between two beams in the wintertime and his fingers were in the glove,” Sam recalled, adding, “He’d try to give somebody a couple of tips.” In Sam’s words, “You’ve got to mix life up with a little humor.”
As an independent contractor, Carmen was quite successful.
“He did most of the urban renewal work that was around here then. He had an eighth-grade education, but he … was a self-made millionaire,” Sam said of his late brother, who died in 2000.
Blood, sweat and tears
Even as they got older, work was a family affair for many of the Vescios. Sam and four of his siblings — Frank, Tony, Pete and Angie — all worked at Sealright. There, they gave back to the community by participating in blood drives.
“I donated 140 pints myself,” said Sam, who stopped donating blood 13 years ago at the age of 74. “Pete had at least 100 pints, Tony and Frank — my sister didn’t give too much but she probably got 30 or 40 pints.”
Sam said the blood drives at Sealright boasted about 600 volunteers, and 200 of them were regular donors.
“They didn’t lack for blood around here,” he said.
The Vescios also participated in Fulton’s famous Cracker Barrel Fair, which began in 1966 to raise money for A.L. Lee Memorial Hospital.
“That was the most memorable event,” Sam said. His wife, Paula, and one of their daughters Rosemary, ran the “Granny’s Attic” stand at the fair.
“Instead of a family reunion, it was a community reunion,” Sam said. “Everybody was singing, happy. They weren’t drunk or nothing, they were just having a good time.”
In addition, several Vescio veterans participated in the VFW. All eight brothers spent time in the service.
“I had seven brothers all in the service overseas during the second World War. They all came back alive,” Sam said. He narrowly missed the draft during World War II because of a football injury. “They looked at my knee and said, ‘Well, we’ll call you back in a month.’ If my knee wasn’t bad, they’d have drafted me in 1944. That would have been all eight. But I was in my senior year of high school.”
Upon returning from their military service, all of the Vescio brothers joined the VFW. Pete, Frank and Phillip served as commanders.
“They used to do Christmas parties for small kids,” Rosemary Vescio Pollard recalled of her family’s involvement in the VFW.
Beyond that, the Vescios had their hands in activities all over the city. Sam served on the Common Council, Tony was president of the Italian Club, and Angelo Jr. — called “Ace” — opened the Tavern on the Lock. In his spare time, he was an umpire for the local baseball team and managed the bowling alley.
Sam said his parents instilled in all their children a desire to give back.
“It was the entire life. We’re born, bred here and stayed here, except for the time we were in the service,” he said. “Everybody became a good citizen. My father made sure of that. He kept us busy when we were young.”
Today, there are branches of the Vescio family all over Fulton. As for what has kept them here for more than 100 years, it’s good old-fashioned stubbornness.
“If you looked up in a dictionary ‘set in your ways,’ you’d find the name ‘Vescio,’” Rosemary said.
Although Fulton has its flaws, the close-knit community keeps the Vescios in the city. Rosemary said it would be hard for established families like the Vescios to relocate and start over.
“They want to live where they were born, they want to die where they were born,” she said. “It’s where you feel comfortable. It’s like an old pair of shoes.”
Having a wide network of children, grandchildren — and 31 great-grandchildren, for Sam — doesn’t hurt either. Rosemary said Italian and Catholic customs such as first communions, baptisms and confirmations give the Vescios plenty of chances for family reunions.
Sam lives on West Second Street, barely a block from the house he grew up in. His sister, Ellen Vescio McGraw, lives two streets away, and she and Sam get together every week after church. Their brother Joe isn’t too far away, either.
“I’ve been here all my life. I don’t know any place else,” Sam said. “I need a compass when I get outside of Fulton so I won’t get lost.”