Maria G. Zannino, a longtime Highlandtown funeral director who played a prominent role in numerous Italian social and cultural organizations, died Saturday from complications of heart disease at Gilchrist Hospice Care in Towson. She was 80.
"Maria was so wonderful that everyone looked up to her. She was always so kind and found the good in people," said Jo Anne Aiello Ditch, a longtime friend and former city dockmaster who lives in Easton.
"And as a funeral director, she had compassion. When my father died, we went to the funeral home and she was so compassionate to my mother at such a terrible time," said Mrs. Ditch.
The daughter of a cobbler and a Hutzler's department store woman's clothing sales associate, the former Maria Santa Glorioso was born in Baltimore and raised on Keyworth Avenue in the city's Park Heights neighborhood.
After graduating in 1951 from Seton High School, Mrs. Zannino earned a diploma from the Walter's Modeling Academy. She studied piano for four years at the Peabody Conservatory of Music.
At the time of her marriage in 1957 to Joseph N. Zannino Jr., a funeral director and embalmer, she was working as an executive secretary to the controller and treasurer of the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
In 1961, she and her husband moved into the Joseph N. Zannino Funeral Home, which they had built at 263 S. Conkling St. in Highlandtown. They raised their eight children in a family quarters on the second and third floors and had still resided there.
"She raised eight children who at one time or the other worked in the family business in some capacity, her son Charles being the licensed funeral director and embalmer along with his father," said a daughter, Rosemarie Zannino "MiMi" Law of Germantown.
After completing an apprenticeship under her husband, Mrs. Zannino passed a state board examination and became a licensed funeral director but not an embalmer.
Her role was managing the business, which had been established by her husband in 1958, and helping families arrange and plan for funerals.
"She always handled the business end and was still giving directions and looking at spread sheets when she was in the hospital two weeks before her death," said Ms. Law.
"My mother could look at a bank statement and find an error. She could add up figures in her head quicker than you could put them into a calculator. She had such an eagle eye for figures," she said.
"Maria had this ability to listen and be compassionate with people and help them get through a difficult time," said retired Baltimore Circuit Judge Edward J. Angeletti, another longtime friend, who got to know Mrs. Zannino when he joined the Sons of Italy in the late 1960s.
In addition to her professional life, Mrs. Zannino was a highly visible and active member in the city's Italian community.
She received numerous awards for her years of service to the Order of the Sons of Italy in America, for being instrumental in the formation of many lodges. She played a key role and coordinated Italian festivals at Rash Field and Columbus Day parades in Baltimore for decades.
As a board member, Mrs. Zannino brought her organizational skills and financial expertise to the American Council of Italian Matters, the Italian-American Organizations United, and the American Society of Italians and Friends.
She was an active supporter of Our Lady of Pompeii Roman Catholic Church and St. Leo the Great Roman Catholic Church.
"When she was involved with the Italian Festival, it drew 700,000 to 800,000 people to the Inner Harbor," said Judge Angeletti.
"Police Commissioner Frank Battaglia said he wouldn't do an Italian Festival unless he had Maria in a trailer counting the money, Shirley Pastore, Jo Anne Ritmiller and me. He called the four of us 'Frankie's Angels,'" said Mrs. Ditch.
"We held big spaghetti dinners to raise the first money for Signal 13. Whatever he wanted, he got fundraising help from us," she said.
Mrs. Zannino was especially devoted to leading fundraising efforts for children with disabilities through the Kennedy Krieger Institute and the March of Dimes, which included serving as chairman of its Southeastern Division.
"She always included her children and neighborhood children as we wanted to help our mom by making a lemonade stand in front of our family funeral home and drawing a poster to encourage neighbors to donate for the March of Dimes," said Ms. Law.
"This is just one example of how our mother inspired and motivated her children and countless other children and adults to think beyond themselves and help others in whichever modest or grand way they were able," she said.
Mrs. Zannino also enlisted her children in stuffing cannoli shells and selling homemade sausage sandwiches to raise money for charities at cultural events in the city.
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"She shared the Italian-American spirit of civic duty and cultural awareness as we dressed in provincial costumes and performed tarantellas and sang traditional Italian songs for thousands who attended the festivals she helped organize at the Inner Harbor, parades and other venues," she said.
"She was very warm and friendly," said Judge Angeletti. "She was a good listener and she'd draw you to her. And if it were the first time, she'd make you feel like she had known you for years."
While Mrs. Zannino enjoyed vacationing in Ocean City and playing cards, her hobby was "fundraising," said Ms. Law. "She was driven by her principles."
Mrs. Zannino was a communicant of Our Lady of Pompeii, Claremont and Conkling streets, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Thursday.
In addition to her husband and Ms. Law, Mrs. Zannino is survived by four sons, Joseph N. Zannino III of Rosedale, Charles S. Zannino of Baltimore, Dominic Zannino of Reisterstown and Salvatore Vincent DePaul Zannino of Los Angeles; three other daughters, Felicia Zannino Baker of Washington, Kathleen Zannino Mangione of Towson and Salvatrice Zannino Marziale of Abingdon; a brother, Joseph Glorioso of Perry Hall; 15 grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.