Josephine Rapone, or “Jo” is a natural people person.  With her bright smile and warm personality, she has made many friends at Cathedral Square since she arrived last February. Jo is passionate about Italian culture and language because her family is originally from Italy.

Before immigrating to the U.S. around the turn of the century, her parents kept a farm and vineyard on the Swiss border in a small town called Morgeno.   While in Italy Jo’s father worked as a stone mason and her mother worked at a textile mill. “We used to keep silk worms and sell the silk to make extra money,” Jo recalls.

Jo’s parents moved to the U.S. to seek a better life and she, their only child, was born in 1918. “Till I went to school I spoke only Italian.” She says. “Going to school was difficult because I didn’t speak English and they didn’t have any tutors then.” In New Haven, Connecticut the family built a new life for themselves. Her father found work as a stone mason and built their family home of brick and stone that he got through bartering.

“He was a very proud and hardworking man,” Jo says. “He never wanted to take handouts even when we were poor.” The family soon started a farm where they raised cattle and vegetables. Jo remembers coming home after school as a child to shell corn. “We had a machine that separated the corn from the husk. My friends thought it looked like fun, but it was hard work.”

Jo’s mom made and sold cheese, something that Jo loves to this day.

Romance bloomed for Jo at ate 22 when she married her husband Tony. “I was always afraid of boys as a girl,” Jo says smiling. “I’d make dates and break them. But he was Abruzzes (from Abruzia, Italy) he lived across the street and people started throwing us together.”

Jo and her husband were married for 59 years and had two daughters. Through the years Jo had many interesting jobs: She’s worked as a farmer; an assembler of pocket watches; as an accountant and a children’s librarian. But her favorite job of all was working as a photography printer, a job that required long hours in a dark room developing black and white prints.   “I didn’t like to take the photos, but I loved to develop them,” she says. “It was fun to watch them come up.”

Jo’s life has held its share of adventure. At age 59 Jo (who is 5’ tall) drove both herself and her husband cross country to California towing their 22 foot long RV. She smiles at the memory. “He had said he’d help drive and take over when we got to the gas station. Well, then when we got there, he said, you’re doing such a good job, I don’t feel like it, you do it.”

But perhaps Jo’s greatest adventure was living on her parent’s land in Italy for about a year, before she was married, in 1938. During this time Mussolini was revoking land from Italians who’d moved abroad so Jo went overseas to sell her father’s farm and vineyard. “I fit right in,” Jo says. “I met all my cousins and spoke the local dialect.” Her time abroad provided some of the most wonderful memories of her life. When asked what she did while in Italy Jo says she picked chestnuts and grapes; ate delicious food; and explored the city of Rome. And she says she did lots of what fun-loving Italians do best.

“I loafed.”

 

-Kristin D’Agostino