Santo and Mario Rocca try out their new tricycles

Conversations with Mary: Rosa and Santo Rocca

Destiny clearly had a hand in bringing Santo Rocca and Rosa Pizzino together.  Born 30 miles apart in Italy both immigrated to Canada in 1953, Rosa to Cranbrook and Santo to Fernie. Santo, five-years-old with mom Assunta and siblings Mario and Teresa to join dad Serafino who had come the previous year with others from Colosimi to work in Michel Mine.  “He worked for Kaiser for eight days, then diagnosed with bone marrow cancer he left.  He lived five more years during which he worked at the Elko mill, then the cancer returned and he died 1972. Dad hunted and fished that’s how we got started,” says Santo. He goes on to say how his daughters Annette and Sandra learned to do the same and today he’s teaching grandchildren Zavier and Gianna and one day one year old little Santo. “We’re teaching them about conservation. They have to learn rules and regulations, respect for animals and how to let a fish go nicely.”  Their son-in-law Brent wasn’t a hunter until he came into the family. Now he hunts and teaches outdoor recreation as part of his teacher’s curriculum, taking students on fishing trips with wardens. “When I came to Fernie, I made friends right away, got my education here,” said Santo.“I was hired by the gas company and 37 years later was the last one to retire from B.C. Gas just before it became Terasen. I trained for magazine illustration from an art school in Minnesota, sold enough paintings and signs to pay for my courses,” he said.   Rosa adds that he won local art contests and juried art shows, produced amazing images of animals, did window painting, created striking calligraphy. In school, he worked and produced art for Zephyr, the school paper. He was well known in Fernie for being one of the first body builders in the valley along with Bob Reeves, becoming so strong he could pick up a car and literally did that for Mary Ehrler, something she’s never forgotten. He stopped training because living in their trailer it was “either a crib or barbells.”At work people said, “If Santo puts something together you can’t take it apart.” Santo was altar server, Fourth degree and Grand Knight of the KC’s serving Honour Guard, called bingo on  Thursdays, helps organize the Soap Box Derby and assists friends with home building projects and tilling and caring gardens, blows snow, takes friends out fishing and was auxiliary police for 14 years. We reminisce about Italy, “I remember a pear tree in front of grandma’s house, catching a chicken and riding it like a donkey, going to the water fountain that seemed so far away.” Rosa says when they returned to Italy, Santo realized it was only across the road.  Rosa was eighteen months old when she and mom Caterina and dad Luigi Pizzino arrived to Marysville in December 1953. Her dad was a cement worker but in the beginning he worked irrigating fields in Creston. The family moved to Cranbrook where Luigi and a friend began a construction and cement business, but in the fifties times were dire and they lost everything during the recession says Rosa.  He found work as a labourer with the City of Cranbrook while Caterina worked as pin setter at the bowling alley, bringing Rosa with her.  They lived in a three room house with no indoor plumbing for years. But what they lacked in amenities they more than made up for in friends. She says the house was busy constantly and remembers how her dad and his male friends would dress up as women  for Halloween to take her out trick or treating bringing an accordion, a clarinet, and a trumpet, making music as they walked from house to house. The family eventually moved into a larger house with a big yard where they raised rabbits, chickens and grew copious amounts of vegetables.  By this time Anna Maria, Rosa’s sister, had come along but Rosa, as the older one, got to help clean house, do laundry, chop firewood, stoke the coal furnace and make supper.  Luigi kept a close eye on his daughter and Rosa wasn’t permitted to visit friend’s homes or go out without parental supervision. “Kids didn’t understand that I wasn’t allowed to join them after school hours so I got a reputation for being unfriendly. I was chosen for cheerleading, volleyball, drama but wasn’t allowed to attend out of town events.”In school, she worked with pottery, was president of the photography club developing and printing images in the school dark room, belonged to the future teachers club. At age 19 when she had finished her year at Henderson’s Business College in Lethbridge, the family moved back to Italy. Back in Cerisano her mom couldn’t recover from getting sick during the ocean voyage. With her mother’s health seemingly precarious her father reluctantly came back to Cranbrook, returning to his old job. Rosa worked at Kemball’s Jewelry store and then Columbia Natural Gas.   As secretary she fielded all calls and that’s how she got to know Santo. Two years passed before they met face to face, Santo was union shop steward and went into the Cranbrook office for negotiations.  “We were the only two single people in the company, everyone was matching us up.” Six months later on April 27, 1974 they married. The couple kept their home open to all their children’s friends driving them around to where they needed to go as well. Today Rosa keeps busy with her grandchildren and with Sorority and CWL. Times have changed; many friends have moved away or passed on from Sparwood.  Santo says he used to know everyone during the times when gas meters were inside but now he hardly recognizes anyone in Fernie. Change is inevitable,  it’s just that time seems to move faster today than it used to or is it just that as we age we learn to value it more because of life’s lessons.  Regardless this couple certainly has and still contributes greatly in many ways to the community and really that’s what life is all about.

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