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Louis S. Rizzo

Louis Rizzo
Louis Rizzo

Louis S. Rizzo, a retired Domino Sugars supervisor and a World War II merchant mariner who was a longtime volunteer aboard the Liberty ship SS John W. Brown, died Monday at Gilchrist Center Howard County in Columbia of pulmonary fibrosis.

The longtime Ten Hills resident was 92.

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"Lou and I sailed for 15 years together on the Liberty ship SS John W. Brown and became close shipmates," said Ernest F. Imhoff, a former Baltimore Sun editor who wrote "Good Shipmates: The Restoration of the Liberty Ship John W. Brown."

"He was an all-purpose good Samaritan on land and at sea, one of the most admirable people I've ever met," Mr. Imhoff said. "He sought funds and goods more than a thousand times for the Brown's cause to honor the American merchant marine and the lost seamen of World War II."

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The son of Italian immigrants, Giovanni Rizzo, a coal miner, and Philomena Rizzo, a homemaker, Louis Samuel Rizzo was born and raised in Old Forge, Pa. He attended Lackawanna County public schools and graduated in 1939 from Old Forge High School.

Mr. Rizzo moved to Baltimore after graduating from high school and briefly worked for Montgomery Ward on Washington Boulevard before taking a job as a mechanical adjuster for American Hammered and Piston Ring Co.

In 1944, Mr. Rizzo went to Sheepshead Bay, N.Y., where he attended and graduated from the U.S. Maritime Service Training Station in 1944. His first voyage was serving as a cook aboard the SS William Pepper.

"My first trip began on a famous day. We left New York June 6, 1944, D-Day, on the Liberty ship SS William Pepper. We had a full load of ammunition, bombs, shells, mortars, you name it, we had it," he was quoted in Mr. Imhoff's book. "We sailed to the Firth of Lorne in Scotland. Then we went to Normandy. We were under fire many times for 29 days."

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After his first trip, Mr. Rizzo sailed as chief cook on the SS Henry Jocelyn. During the war, he served in the galley as chief cook, baker, chef and chief steward and had other ratings such as lifeboat man, and completed six voyages on three Liberty ships and a Victory ship.

From 1946 until 1953, when he left the merchant service, Mr. Rizzo was chief steward aboard three ships of the Army Transport Service.

"But the real reason I came ashore? I felt life's going by, it's time to move on," he said in Mr. Imhoff's book.

He returned to Baltimore in 1953 and went to work as a foreman for the Baugh Chemical Co., a fertilizer company, and in 1957, was promoted to production supervisor at the company's Canton, Ohio, plant. In 1962, he was named manager of Baugh's Rushville, Ind., plant, and three years later, returned to the Baltimore facility, where he served as plant foreman.

In 1966, Mr. Rizzo joined the American Sugar Co.'s Domino Sugars plant in Baltimore, where he was a line supervisor until retiring in 1989.

An ad in The Baltimore Sun seeking volunteers for the SS John W. Brown, then undergoing restoration, grabbed Mr. Rizzo's attention.

"I wanted to work in the engine room, because that's my first love when I went to Sheepshead Bay in 1944. But I couldn't stay there because I was colorblind. Pipes were different colors," so he became a cook, he told Mr. Imhoff for the book.

His engine room work ranged from cleaning soot and grease from the ship's bilges to replacing bricks that were broken or disintegrated in the firebox under the boilers, where he worked in a confined space of four-feet.

"He was a crackerjack seaman in his 70s and 80s. Nothing was too dirty or too difficult or too menial," Mr. Imhoff said.

"I've done about everything on the Brown," he told Mr. Imhoff in an interview for his book.

"He was everywhere when the ship sailed, an eager docent, an engine room greeter, an able seaman on the mooring lines, a fix-it guy," Mr. Imhoff said.

Mr. Rizzo also became one of the most prolific fundraisers for Project Liberty Ship, which owns and operates the John W. Brown. In addition to getting Domino Sugars to donate funds and equipment, he persuaded the Ridge Tool Co. in Elyria, Ohio, to donate $100,000 worth of tools.

He wrote and mailed hundreds of letters seeking financial support for the ship, even working the money wheel at fundraising oyster roasts, and through the years managed to raise thousands of dollars in goods and services for Project Liberty Ship.

A popular member of the crew who always had a twinkle in his eye and a kind word, Mr. Rizzo liked baking banana bread , which he placed in the ship's mess for his fellow volunteers. He also visited and sent cards to ailing shipmates.

"I'd be dead now if it weren't for the Brown," he told Mr. Imhoff. "We forget our aches and pains when we come on the ship."

He stopped going to the Brown about two years ago when breathing became too hard as he climbed the ship's accommodation ladder.

Mr. Rizzo was an avid gardener and especially liked growing tomatoes, which he cooked into sauces. Until volunteering on the Brown, he made varietal wines such as dandelion, elderberry and chokecherry, which won 27 first-place honors and other awards at the Maryland State Fair.

He was 20 when he began donating blood to the Red Cross, and during his lifetime donated up to 300 pints of blood.

Mr. Rizzo had been a block captain for the Westgate Neighborhood Association and worked in community relations for the Baltimore Police Department. He also was an honorary Girl Scout "because he sold so many cookies," said a daughter, Philamena Hoopes of Ten Hills.

In addition to driving and working on the ship, Mr. Rizzo was an avid reader.

His wife of 50 years, the former Helen Joan Lucas, died in 2007.

Mr. Rizzo was an active communicant of St. William of York Roman Catholic Church, 600 Cooks Lane, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, John A. Rizzo of Catonsville; another daughter, Celeste R. Dean of Jarrettsville; seven grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren. An earlier marriage to the former Margaret Dietz ended in divorce.

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