Student Provides Selfless Service During Pandemic

Antonio Pugliese accepts pin signifying his receipt of one of the 2020 Brian Piccolo Scholarship Awards. Pictured outside the family’s shoe repair shop in Dunmore are, from left: David Passeri; Scranton Chapter President Gail Cicerini; Antonio; his father John Pugliese; and his brother Nico Pugliese.

The tradition of younger family members caring for their elderly relatives, while not exclusive to Italians, is nevertheless particularly prevalent in the Italian culture. One example is the devotion of a local student to his grandparents during the challenging circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Antonio Pugliese, a 2020 graduate of West Scranton High School and now a freshman at Penn State Scranton, has put himself in virtual quarantine to help care for his paternal grandparents Clare and Nick Pugliese of Dunmore, especially aiding his grandmother tend to the needs of her husband, who since 2006 has faced significant health issues that require near constant attention.

Since the pandemic hit in March, Antonio has spent countless hours in his grandparents’ home and has refrained from any gatherings, including activities associated with his senior year, to limit interaction with other people and his chances of contracting the virus and passing it to his vulnerable grandparents.

“I had to stay disciplined to make sure I was not bringing the virus into their home,” Antonio explained. “What keeps me vigilant and what kept me okay with missing my final high school memories, while many people my age take their chances with the pandemic, is the thought that my time with my grandparents is much more limited and valuable than the time I could spend with people my age for the rest of my life. 

“My grandmother has worked more than enough throughout her life, and the work hasn’t stopped for her and becomes more difficult every day. So, even in the midst of starting my college career online, I try to do what I can to ease the burden my grandmother carries.”

Family is the most important part of his life, Antonio added, and he feels “lucky and grateful to have four loving grandparents who taught me through their life stories the importance of working hard and enjoying the simple things in life.”

Antonio, the son of John and Rosanna Pugliese of Scranton, was one of six high school students to receive the 2020 Brian Piccolo Scholarship Award from the Scranton Chapter of UNICO National, the nation’s largest Italian-American service organization. 

The award honors students who have displayed the same qualities and characteristics of Brian Piccolo, the professional football player who battled cancer before succumbing to the disease at age 26. Piccolo exhibited determination, hard work, integrity, leadership, courage, loyalty, friendship, teamwork, dedication, sense of humor, anti-bias, strength, faith, goodwill and courage in the face of adversity. 

Coincidentally, Antonio’s service to his family mirrors that of his grandfather Nick, who many years ago exhibited similar devotion and experienced challenges when his mother was facing the end of her life in Italy.

UNICO Scranton Chapter President Gail Mason Cicerini discovered the story when she met David Passeri, a fellow traveler on a tour of Italy. Gail noticed a beautiful gold medal that Dave was wearing, and he explained that it was a gift from a Nick Pugliese – a gift of gratitude.

David and Nick worked at the Golo Shoe Factory in Dunmore owned by Arthur Samuels, whose son Lee and his wife Frances are members of the UNICO Scranton Chapter. As Nick’s mother’s health declined, he asked the foreman for time off so he could visit her in Calabria, Italy, from where he had migrated in 1961. 

The foreman refused, but David Passeri was the plant supervisor and he made the compassionate decision to allow Nick to go. Nick was able to spend time with his mother, and having seen her son, she spent her final days in peace.

Following his retirement from the Golo plant in 1970, Nick established Nick’s Shoe Repair on East Drinker Street in Dunmore and worked there part-time for 15 years while also holding a full-time job at a trucking company loading dock to support his family. 

After Nick had to leave the shop for health reasons, his son John took over the shop on a part-time basis, with help from his sons Antonio and Nicola, a junior at Penn State Main Campus. Nick’s Shoe Repair remains open Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Across the years and across generations, the Pugliese story typifies how families can care for each other under all sorts of challenges and circumstances.

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