April 14, 1931 – February 14, 2015
PUTNAM – Umberto Colangelo, 83, of Putnam, CT passed away at home in the arms of his loving family in the early morning hours of Valentine’s Day, February 14, 2015. “Bert” was born on April 14, 1931 in Providence, Rhode Island. He was the son of the late Nicola and Virginia (Fabriani) Colangelo. He is survived by his former wife and lifelong best friend, Helene Freuden; his children, Linda Colangelo and Laura Crosetti; Lisa and Marios Evripidou; Paul Colangelo and Colleen Howell; and David and Tracey Colangelo.
He was a beloved Poppy to his grandchildren whom he adored – Stavros Evripidou; Emily, Noah, and Grace Colangelo; and Nicolas Colangelo. Their presence enriched his life beyond measure.
He also leaves two sisters; Christina Colangelo of Providence and Jennie Kiernan of Cranston; a brother, Luigi Colangelo of Providence; and numerous nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his sisters Ida and Lucy Colangelo; and Gina Colasanto.
Bert was a proud veteran of the United States Army and a respected educator in the Killingly School system for 32 years where he proudly shaped thousands of young lives. We are comforted by the many legendary stories we hear about “Mr. Colangelo.” He was also a former member of Putnam Elks Lodge #574.
He was known as a gentleman, a sharp dresser, a problem-solver, a storyteller, and a good friend – the kind you could call at two in the morning if you were stranded somewhere – he would pick you up, no questions asked. He loved breakfast at Main Street Grille; taking the grandkids to Nikki’s Doghouse and The Courthouse for meals; and Rite-Aid for trinkets and candy. He enjoyed many special family occasions at 85 Main and Bella’s. He and Helene were frequently spotted at Someplace Special sharing a salad, sandwich, and “a cold one.”
His numerous trips to Price Chopper supermarket were rivaled only by his trips to Aubuchon Hardware, where he was known to make 12 visits on a single Saturday in an attempt to replace a “standard” toilet seat. Most of his home improvement projects were finished with great detail, determination, and a fiery combination of Italian-American expletives. His children have proudly carried on the tradition of the “Curse of the Colangelo Quarter-Inch” – a guarantee that the new furniture will never fit through the door, the extension cord will always fall a quarter inch short, and the replacement mini blind will always be a quarter inch too long.
He was always a familiar face in the crowd; always present for anything that was important to his children and grandchildren – hockey, football, baseball, softball, and basketball games; State championships; dance recitals; choral and band concerts; Little League, Memorial Day, and Holiday Dazzle Light parades; Broadway Live shows; Tolland Idol and any other performances that had anything to do with his offspring whether they were selling tickets or in a starring role. His cheering, coaching, and applause will be missed. We will also miss his annual reciting of his favorite Christmas tale, entitled “When I was a Kid My Only Gift was a Nail in a Coffee Can.” Based on a true story, of course.
Dad bought more Girl Scout cookies, Boy Scout popcorn, subscriptions to magazines, citrus fruit, candy bars, butter braids, cookie dough, refrigerator magnets and other fund-raising “must haves” than any man could possibly use or ever need. Poppy could never utter “no” to a student on a mission.
Bert avidly supported his children’s many business ventures ranging from fitness centers and clothing stores in Virginia Beach to Fox Hunt Farms Gourmet and Café in Woodstock, where he scooped ice cream, sliced deli meat, made deliveries, and waited on customers for eight joyful years. Once, during an extended power outage, we made him transport 700 pounds of cheese to another location with refrigerated storage. His car smelled like Blue Stilton for years, but he never complained. He measured out camping spots at the northeastern Connecticut Relay for Life and parlayed that extraordinary skill into plotting out vendor spaces when he worked the Woodstock Fair Concessions Department for three years. Though never a golfer, he could drive a golf cart like nobody’s business.
As the patriarch of the Italian Wonder Kitchen, Bert was famous for his pan-fried spaghetti, broccoli rabe with sweet sausage, and his hearty beef stew. He fervently debated the authentic way to prepare many an Italian dish, refusing to accept the fact that raisins and pignoli nuts could actually be legally added to “Pizza d’Bien,” a traditional meat-and-cheese pie served at Easter dinner. The bastardization of his time-honored recipes by the Food Channel often erupted into arguments that resulted in his boycott of said holiday dinners. After 61 years together, Helene was shocked to learn that Bert preferred “fluffy eggs” over her Italian frittata, but is learning to cope.
Dad loved telling a good joke; enjoyed his crossword puzzles, reading, card games, Scrabble, working on cars, salt water fishing, and rocking on the front porch at 143 Grove. He could recite Hamlet’s entire “To be or not to be” soliloquy from memory. His brilliant mind could also remember most of the names of his former students and the number of detentions he doled out over three decades. He could not, however, recall three simple items on Mom’s grocery list.
Forever the math teacher, he loved helping his grandchildren with their homework, taught them cool math tricks, and cursed their dependency on digital devices. Speaking of cursing, he also loved spending time with his best friend, Charlie Franklin, and enjoyed their jaunts together to JD Coopers and the casinos. Despite being a world-class mathematician, Bert could never put the right numbers together to win the lottery or a horse race.
He loved the Boston Red Sox and his Fantasy Football team, The Pasta Fazoolas. The family thanks the New England Patriots for making Dad’s last Superbowl one for the ages.
He remained a devoted son-in-law to Tina Olivo, visiting her almost daily at Westview Health Care Center to transport her laundry back and forth from home. She is probably sitting there in her last clean nightie wondering where the heck he is. Dad never figured that 103-year-old Tina would outlive him, but forever the gentleman; he went first so he could hold Heaven’s door open for her.
Dad faced his diagnosis of lung cancer with astounding courage, opting to let nature run its course without intervention; choosing quality of life over quantity of years. He said that the only benefit was that it gave him time to make amends; express his love and gratitude; and enjoy the company of his family and friends; his trusted physician Dr. Joseph Botta, and his favorite nurse and dear friend, Lizzie Hagan. Only Dad was allowed to call her “Lizzie,” so don’t start taking liberties.
Finally, in his own words, here is what Bert wants you to know:
“You have often heard people say that they are ‘waiting for their ship to come in.’ I believe that everyone’s ship comes in at exactly the same time…and that is the moment we are born. Our ship arrives with a cargo area that holds a large, empty crate and from our very first cry, everything goes into that crate – everything. The first and last words we will speak; every breath we will ever take; every heart we will ever break. Every thought, every word, every deed…all our sunshine, rain, suffering, and pain. Every opportunity, experience, success, and failure. Every relationship we will ever share. We spend our entire life filling that crate until one day our ship arrives for us again. Hopefully, our final journey will be over calm seas helped along by a slight breeze…and then we set sail, never to be seen or heard from again. But there is one thing we leave behind. The crate. The crate filled with everything we ever did, said, or felt in our lives. This is the priceless treasure that we leave on the shore for others to find and by which to remember us or judge us. As you read this, my ship has set sail for my final journey…so I bid you this:
As you live your life and make your choices, remember to fill your crate well, my friends. Fill it well.”
At Bert’s request, a celebration of his life will be held in the Spring. Until then, if his spirit moves you, come by and say a prayer at Bert’s beloved Prayer Tree at the corner of Grove and Center in Putnam…then do something nice for someone in his memory. For memorial guestbook visit www.GilmanAndValade.com