The phrase “cleanliness is next to Godliness” can be found in a 1788 sermon by Methodist leader John Wesley. His saying would be personified by Rose Reisinger about 200 years later.
Outside her home near the intersection of South Luzerne and Fait avenues in the Canton neighborhood of East Baltimore, Mrs. Reisinger and her broom were a near-constant presence cleaning the curbs and sweeping up trash.
“God forbid there should be a leaf on the sidewalk,” daughter Virginia Deardorff recalled. “That was probably one of her daily routines. I remember that she wanted the people across the street to take down a tree because the leaves from their tree would always get blown onto her sidewalk.”
Mrs. Reisinger, who managed her husband’s home improvement business, died July 3 at a nursing home in Venice, Florida, due to heart failure. She was 101.
“It was a good long life, a life well lived,” said her granddaughter, Kimberly Edwards.
The former Rose Rappazzo was born to a pair of Sicilian immigrants, Stefano Rappazzo, who owned a barbershop on East Pratt Street, and Carmella Rappazzo, a homemaker. Raised in Little Italy, she was the youngest of 11 children and five years younger than her closest sibling.
“I think she loved it because she was the baby of the family,” Mrs. Deardorff said from her home in Towson. “I think she would have loved to have stayed home and remained the baby of the family for her whole life. … I think she got the benefits of it, not the brunt of it.”
Having grown up during the Great Depression, Mrs. Deardorff’s mother dropped out of school to earn money for her family. Then on Nov. 13, 1938, at the age of 19, she married John Reisinger at St. Leo’s Roman Catholic Church in Baltimore.
While Mr. Reisinger served as a cook in the Merchant Marines for about two years during World War II, Mrs. Reisinger worked as a seamstress at Cohn and Goldman, one of many clothing factories in Baltimore.
After Mr. Reisinger returned, he worked for a relative’s roofing business before starting his own roofing company. After about five years, he switched to home improvement, and Mrs. Reisinger became the business manager for her husband’s company. The role was seamless, according to her daughter.
“In their marriage, she took care of the money from day one,” Mrs. Deardorff said. “They pooled their paychecks, and she took care of paying the bills and handling the money. It was always that way.”
The couple expanded their business to purchasing old homes, renovating them, and then renting them to residents until 2006 when Mr. Reisinger died at 89.
“She was always very frugal having grown up the way that she did,” Mrs. Deardorff said of her mother. “So they just started buying up houses when he would find them. They hardly ever used agents.”
Mrs. Edwards said her grandmother — who was called “Me Mom” by her grandchildren — was the typical Italian grandmother who favored whipping up large pans of baked spaghetti over dining out at restaurants.
“She was always cooking and always feeding us,” she said from her home in Newark, Delaware. “‘Mangia, mangia,' she would always say. ‘Finish it up.’ You would say, ‘But I already had three plates,’ and she would say, ‘You’re too little. You’ve got to finish it up.’”
Mrs. Edwards said because her parents were only 20 and 19 years old when she was born, she saw her grandparents every weekend and her grandmother an additional two to three days per week.
“It meant the world,” she said of her grandmother’s presence. “She was the one thing you could count on all the time. She was that constant. … When you were at her place, it was like being at home for me.”
Mrs. Reisinger enjoyed singing along with Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, dancing to big band tunes, watching musicals, playing bingo, and following the Orioles. Her daughter said her mother had memorized players’ statistics, ages and hometowns.
Mrs. Reisinger fiercely protected her house. She attached a sign to her trash can asking dog owners not to dump their pets’ bag of feces in it. She also left notes in her mailbox asking postal carriers to avoid leaving junk mail there.
Mrs. Deardorff said her mother was the type to wash her curtains once a week.
“I’m lucky if I ever take mine down,” Mrs. Deardorff joked. “As she was getting older, she would be shrinking and climbing up on these ladders to get the curtains down. She would say, ‘Oh, I’m glad you’re here because I can’t get that curtain down.’ We would say, ‘Mother, what are you talking about? It’s spotless.’ But it was always like that.”
Mrs. Edwards said her grandmother loved to make her grandchildren laugh by breaking into an impromptu dance or changing the lyrics of a song. Her grandmother also enjoyed pampering her grandchildren.
“If it wasn’t for her, all of the grandkids would not be where they are,” Mrs. Edwards said. “She helped me buy my first car. When I moved into my house, she helped me buy furniture. She gave us a leg up. She gave us the opportunity when she came from nothing. … ‘Me Mom’ and ‘Pop Pop’ didn’t have any money. But she worked really hard, and she came a long way and gave us opportunities that I wouldn’t have had if it wasn’t for her. That commitment she had to family was so important to her, and I hope we carry that on.”
Mrs. Reisinger was cremated. A memorial service is still being planned.
In addition to her daughter and granddaughter, Mrs. Reisinger is survived by her son, John S. Reisinger of Venice, Florida, three more grandchildren, and one great-granddaughter.