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Nell Tumminello

The Baltimore Sun

Nell L. Tumminello, a former group ticket sales director at the Mechanic Theatre, died of heart failure Dec. 30 at her Arnold home. She was 97 and had lived for many years in Ednor Gardens.

Born Anele Lelia Waitekunas on Baltimore's Hollins Street, she attended the old Greene Street Public School No. 1, where she met her future husband, Joseph V. Tumminello, in 1918. In the 1920s she studied Lithuanian language and culture under the poet and scholar Nadas Rastenis. She graduated from Western High School in 1930.

As a young woman, she worked as an executive secretary for the Baltimore headquarters of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co.

After raising three daughters, Mrs. Tumminello, who enjoyed theater and had been an usher at the old Ford's Theatre on Fayette Street, became group ticket sales director of the old Morris A. Mechanic Theatre in the late 1960s and retired a decade later.

"She had a talent for selling out the entire theatre for fundraising events and caught the attention of the Nederlander brothers, who traveled to Baltimore to meet the face behind the sales figures," said her daughter, Anelle R. Tumminello of Arnold. "They were surprised by the diminutive and quiet lady," her daughter said. The Nederlanders, prominent theatrical producers who booked the Mechanic, promptly sought to lure her to work in New York and Detroit, an offer she repeatedly declined, choosing to stay in her beloved Baltimore.

Her daughter said Mrs. Tumminello often advised theater people where to eat. She steered them to her favorite restaurants, such as Marconi's, Burke's and the Chesapeake.

"She would take her lunch and eat it while watching rehearsals of ballet dancers," her daughter said. "She told me that Rudolph Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn were perfectionists and practiced long hours."

Mrs. Tumminello, as a speaker at club lunches, regaled her audiences with stage lore. She often told of how Betty Grable, who appeared at the Mechanic in its opening 1967 production of Hello, Dolly! counted the seats sold to make sure she was getting the right percentage of the gross.

She enjoyed cooking for family and friends and gave cooking instruction for younger neighbors in Ednor Gardens. She also gardened and visited Sherwood and Longwood gardens and the National Arboretum. She excelled at Scrabble and delighted in singing show tunes and other melodies.

A Mass of the Resurrection will be offered at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Andrew by the Bay Roman Catholic Church, 701 College Parkway.

Survivors include two other daughters, Anne Marie Helbing of Ellicott City and Frances T. Senft of Arnold; four grandsons; and eight great-grandchildren. Her husband of 71 years, a produce supervisor for the A&P; grocery stores, died in 2006.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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