Annette Elizabeth Velleggia, a Little Italy family matriarch who became known as the "Pasta Lady," died of lung disease Sunday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center. The Lutherville resident was 77.
Born in Baltimore and raised on Exeter Street, she was the daughter of Leonard Leonardi, who owned a Taneytown seafood restaurant, and Victoria "Rose" Cortezzi. She was a graduate of the old St. Michael's Commercial School, where she studied business skills.
She worked for the Slaysman machinist firm in East Baltimore and met her future husband, Frank M. Velleggia Sr., as a child when she was living in a house on Pratt Street. They dated while he was a Pennsylvania State University student and married in 1960.
She initially worked alongside her husband at the High Street restaurant and tavern founded by his father in 1937. She was a bookkeeper and helped manage the restaurant while she raised a family.
In 1970, Mrs. Velleggia and her husband joined Leonardi family members to start a new business manufacturing fresh pasta. They named their venture the Casa di Pasta and hired family members and those others recommended by family. They worked in a small plant on Albemarle Street, creating fresh pasta that they sold on a wholesale basis to restaurants in Baltimore, Ocean City and Washington.
"Casa di Pasta has refined pasta-making to a science," according to a Baltimore Sun article in 1981. "The factory can turn a mixture of flour, eggs, water and salt into piping-hot lasagna in an hour and 45 minutes."
Mrs. Velleggia said in the article that she and her workers turned out 120 pounds a day: Monday was macaroni and ravioli; Tuesday was lasagna; Wednesday, manicotti and stuffed shells; Thursday was a second run of lasagna; and Friday was meat-stuffed shells.
"She made working there a pleasant experience," said one of her employees, Anna Brotto. "She was generous and always had a little something ready to hand you."
She helped set down and perfect family recipes that remain in use today by family members and the pasta-making business. The Velleggia restaurant closed in 2008.
"My mother became known as the 'Pasta Lady,'" said a daughter, Maria Tilley of Reisterstown. "People in the restaurant industry knew her, but she also sold it at the neighborhood festivals. She became synonymous with it."
Mrs. Velleggia was known for her generosity. Family members said she would fill bags with a hot meal for the homeless people who called at her back door.
Relative said Mrs. Velleggia also cherished her role as the matriarch of her family.
"She always spoke her mind and gave her opinion," said a grandson, Frank "Trey" Velleggia III of Raleigh, N.C. "People knew her as A.V., and she was always the biggest personality in the room. ... She never held anything back."
He recalled her habits of giving gifts and making sure guests had enough to eat.
"I remember one Christmas Eve when the family gathered at her house," her grandson said. "I was grown and earning a good living, and she said to me, 'Don't you need this $10 for gas money?'"
Mrs. Velleggia kept up with the sports her children and grandchildren played. When her son, Frank Jr., played baseball for the University of Alabama, Mrs. Velleggia drove long distances to his games. When a grandson, Joseph Velleggia played for the minor league baseball Aberdeen IronBirds, she attended those games as well. She was also on the sidelines for her grandchildren's football, lacrosse, baseball and basketball games.
She used email and Facebook to keep up with the family and offer words of encouragement.
Mrs. Velleggia and her husband owned a summer house in Ventnor City, N.J., where they welcomed family members and hosted pasta customers. She also spent time at the nearby Tropicana Casino in Atlantic City.
"Net was a family woman — she lived for her family — and she loved life. She kept busy all the time," said Dorothy Sammis, a former Lutherville neighbor. "She was always on the go, and she did not like to sit at home. She had a good time gambling, and we would go to Bingo World in Linthicum."
A memorial Mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church, 227 S. Exeter St., where she was an active member and volunteer.
In addition to her daughter and two grandsons, survivors include her husband of 56 years; her son, Frank M. Velleggia Jr. of Monkton; two other daughters, Stasia E. "Stacy" Brooks of San Diego and Erica D. Hudson of Baltimore; a brother, Rudolph Sonny" Leonardi of Sykesville; and nine other grandchildren.