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Obituaries

Salvatore ‘Sam’ Prestianni, a retired Social Security Administration executive who coached youth baseball, dies

Salvatore “Sam” Prestianni, a retired Social Security Administration executive who coached youth baseball in Catonsville, died of Parkinson’s disease complications April 9 at his Ellicott City home. He was 90.

Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Sicilian immigrants, Frank Prestianni, a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad office clerk, and Katie Liberto, a homemaker.

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He was raised in downtown Baltimore near Lexington Market, and spent his childhood in a Greene Street rowhouse. He was baptized at St. John the Baptist Church (now St. Jude Shrine).

“The house was filled with extended family, including aunts and uncles and cousins and three sisters,” said his son Sam Prestianni. “They were active in the St. John’s community, loved the church events like street fairs, bingo nights, spaghetti dinners, the annual May Procession led by the Knights of the Italian-American Society.”

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His son said Mr. Prestianni attended St. John’s School, where the nuns taught him to mind his language.

“My father later wrote in a memoir, ‘The first admonition I received from the nuns was for my foul mouth. I used to cuss freely; this was the language I was accustomed to both in the house and on the street. But they put the fear of God in me. I remember pledging that I would never curse again. And I didn’t.”

At the age of 10, Mr. Prestianni started working at Lexington Market selling grocery bags and soon joined his mother’s cousin Carmello Liberto, who ran a fruit and vegetable stall.

“My eyes were surely opened from here on out, as I garnered all the tricks of life by working there until I graduated from college, some 11 years later,” Mr. Prestianni wrote in his memoir, “Fast Years.”

He played baseball in parking lots near Lexington Market and went to as many minor league Orioles games he could sneak into. He dreamed of playing in the big leagues, his son said.

When his home parish formed a Little League team, he was one of the first to join. He played basketball, baseball and soccer at Calvert Hall College High School and at what is now Loyola University Maryland, where he earned a degree.

In his memoir, Mr. Prestianni recalled walking a few blocks for movies at the Stanley, the Mayfair and the Howard theaters. He liked to dance and attended musical events at the Cahill Recreation Center near Walbrook, the old Fourteen Holy Martyrs Church and the Alcazar Ballroom on Cathedral Street. He also danced on moonlight cruises aboard Chesapeake Bay excursion boats.

He served in the Army and worked in a traveling audit agency in Salt Lake City and San Francisco from 1954 to 1956. Mr. Prestianni met his future wife, Margaret Mary Kantzes, in Ocean City. They married in 1964.

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Skilled in mathematics and accounting, Mr. Prestianni was fascinated by numbers — he calculated odds, and delighted in studying weird number coincidences and sports statistics.

“He never gambled on horses with big money because he was too prudent,” his son said. “Yet he often came home with decent winnings.”

He went into accounting. Among his jobs were posts at the old Baltimore Transit Co., Glenn L. Martin Co. and Federal Power Commission. He joined the Social Security Administration in 1963.

Mr. Prestianni moved through the ranks as an accountant, auditor, analyst, and director. He retired in 1990 as a special assistant to SSA’s then-chief financial officer Norman Goldstein.

Mr. Prestianni was awarded the Department of the Treasury’s first annual award for distinction in cash management.

After moving to Catonsville, he coached baseball, football and basketball teams for the old Catonsville Midget League and basketball for St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church.

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“Sam was a blend of Damon Runyon and Walt Disney,” said the Rev. Christopher Whatley, former St. Mark’s pastor. “He knew you always need a few characters in your life and he always saw the good in others. His role was making those he loved happy, especially his children and grandchildren.”

“My father was an inspiring coach because he always made sure everyone on the team got playing time, and when his team was crushing the opponent, he would give the kids on the bench more time to play so the score wouldn’t be a complete blowout,” his son said. “He also threw festive team parties with trophies and pizza at the end of every season.”

After the death of his first wife in 1983, Mr. Prestianni married Bobbie Reinecke Mitchell, an artist and nurse. They lived in Ellicott City.

His son said Mr. Prestianni was a spiritual person. He was initially reluctant to remarry after his first wife’s death. When a rose they had planted many years before came back to life after lying dormant near a religious shrine in his backyard, he took it as a sign.

Survivors include his wife of 22 years, Bobbie Reinecke Mitchell, a nurse and artist; five sons, Frank Prestianni of Owings Mills, Sam Prestianni of Oakland, California, Bill Prestianni of Eldersburg, David Prestianni of Hagerstown and Jack Mitchell of Pompano Beach, Florida; two daughters, Julie Mitchell of Relay and Nancy Gumbel of Elkridge; and 12 grandchildren.

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Services were held last Wednesday at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City.


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