Dominic Averza, a leader in Baltimore’s Italian American community who led a firm that completed numerous downtown sidewalk, road and bridge projects, died of congestive heart failure Dec. 11 at his Baltimore County home. He was 94.
Born in Baltimore and raised in Little Italy on South High Street, he was the son of Joseph Averza and Vittoria Procopio who were immigrants from Davoli in Calabria, Italy.
His family later moved to Fairmount Avenue near Patterson Park. He attended Baltimore City schools, played football, delivered newspapers and worked in a pickle factory.
As a boy he dressed as a Roman soldier at pageants associated with St. Leo’s Church in Little Italy.
He was a 1945 Baltimore Polytechnic Institute graduate and enlisted in the Navy and was sent to Chicago for radar technology training during World War II. He was later assigned to the U.S. Naval Training Center in at Bainbridge in Cecil County.
Mr. Averza used his GI Bill benefits to earn a bachelor’s degree in accounting at the University of Maryland, College Park. He initially worked at the Ernst and Ernst accounting firm.
He later joined his father at his then small contracting business, Joseph Averza and Sons. The firm worked in sidewalk repair and construction.
“In those early years he and his brothers broke up old sidewalks with sledgehammers and loaded the concrete into trucks by hand,” said his daughter, Victoria “Vicki” Aversa, who spells her last name with the “s.” “He did the estimating for residential projects and, by his account, the company always had plenty of work.”
Mr. Averza enjoyed music and dancing. He met his future wife Helen J. Justice at a barn dance at the Happy Hollow in 1950. They married in 1953.
After the 1956 death of his father, he became president of Joseph Averza and Sons.
“Over the next 40 years, he grew the business into one of Baltimore’s major contracting companies with dozens of employees and sophisticated equipment capable of completing multimillion dollar commercial and municipal projects,” his daughter said.
Along with his three brothers and later his son, Mr. Averza worked on the rebuilding of downtown Baltimore in the 1970s and 1980s.
Family members said his work included the reconstruction of the bed of Howard Street near Lexington Market, the Korean War Memorial, Jessup Prison Utilities, Charles Center Plaza, Lexington Street Mall, Anchorage Marina and a Pratt Street pedestrian promenade.
“My father was respected by members of the Italian American community not only because of all his volunteer and professional accomplishments, but also because he was kind, generous and a good friend to many,” his daughter said.
Mr. Averza was a leader in Baltimore Italian American organizations and charities.
He was the first president and treasurer of Italian American Organizations United, an organization of 13 Italian American groups responsible for the creation of Baltimore’s Columbus Piazza, dedicated by President Ronald Reagan in 1984.
He sat on the stage with President Reagan when the Columbus statue was dedicated.
“Dominic was mild mannered and soft-spoken. He was a congenial man and was passionate about his Italian heritage. He was a fixture in the Italian community,” said a friend, Thomas J. “Tom” Iacoboni. “He used to joke that he did all the sidewalks and concrete paving in Baltimore City.”
Mr. Averza often met his friends at Baltimore County restaurants — The Peppermill, Remo’s and Vito’s Café.
He was a past president and treasurer of the Associated Italian American Charities and a past president of the Sons of Italy, Cavaliere Lodge.
He worked alongside Police Commissioner Frank Battaglia to start the first Italian Festival in Baltimore
“Dominic was always kind to me and made sure he made me feel welcomed when I attended AIAC meetings in my early years with the organization. I also recall him having a stellar memory,” said Mike Meola, the current president of Associated Italian American Charities. “The first time I met him he introduced himself to me … It would be four months before I would see him again but when I did, he walked up to and said ‘Hi, Mr. Meola …’”
“My father had a warm personality, quick wit, and an amazing ability with numbers,” his daughter said. “He always wanted to know what things cost. He was able to juggle many activities at once — whether they were construction jobs, volunteer efforts, or family projects — and always do the work well and on time.”
She also said her father was a lifelong volunteer.
“With my mother, he championed numerous causes, from the education of Italian American youth to the promotion of Italian culture in Maryland,” she said. “One of the highlights of his volunteerism was a trip on behalf of the Associated Italian American Charities to present a donation to Boys Town of Italy, which also included a meeting with Pope John Paul II.”
He was awarded the Dr. Frank C. Marino Award from the Associated Italian American Charities and the Ameritan Award from the Sons of Italy.
He was also a past president and treasurer of the Appian Society and was a past treasurer of the Sons of Italy Towson Dulaney Lodge.
His construction work received citations for excellence from the City of Baltimore and the Baltimore City Council during the administration of Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
Survivors include two daughters, Victoria Aversa of Stoneleigh and Deborah Kessler of Woodstock; a son, Joseph Averza of Fulton; and four grandchildren. His wife of 65 years, a homemaker and former secretary for officers in counter intelligence Fort Holabird, died in 2018.
A celebration of his life is planned for this spring.