from the Chapel Hill News (Now The News & Observer)
16 December 2009
BY DAVE HART, Staff Writer
CHAPEL HILL – When Grandpa Tony went out for his walks, which he did nearly every day until he was into his mid-90s, he always made sure he was well provisioned.
He kept cookies in his right pocket for the neighborhood’s children and dog treats dogs in his left pocket for its dogs. For everyone he had a smile, a wave and a warm conversation.
“He lived here for 18 years and he walked miles every day,” said Virginia Saam, one of Antonio Marimpietri’s neighbors in the Ironwoods subdivison off Seawell School Road. “He talked to everybody. He knew all the kids. He knew all the dogs. Everybody knew Grandpa Tony.”
And when Marimpietri died last July, a month after his 98th birthday, everybody felt the loss. As word of his passing spread, in person and through the Ironwoods blog, the sentiment quickly grew that the neighborhood should commemorate his life and vibrant presence in some way.
“There’s a corner in the neighborhood where the road splits, and Tony would always sit on his walker at that corner and wave and talk to everyone who passed by,” Saam said. “It sort of became Tony’s corner. It occurred to me that maybe we could do something special for him there. That got such a response! Everybody wanted to contribute.”
Another neighbor, Deb Vacca, suggested that it would be a fitting tribute to remember Grandpa Tony with a bench at his corner, a resting place where neighbors could stop and visit with one another just as he always had.
“We settled on the idea of a stone bench, and then we did a Google search,” said neighbor Matthew Feldt. “We found a stonemason based in Asheville. He turned out to be exactly what we were looking for — somebody who is eco-centric, detail oriented, somebody who would really care about the project. And he did; he came to care about Tony.”
Marc Archambault makes exquisite natural stone walls, patios, walkways and other projects, using “dry,” or mortar-free techniques. He does most of his work in and around Asheville, but “for the right project,” he says, he’ll go just about anywhere. Grandpa Tony’s bench was a right project.
Archambault cut the 600-pound bench slab from a 3,000-pound block of Tennessee sandstone. He chiseled the support pedestals from smaller — though still substantial — blocks of stone, and on Oct. 30 he brought the whole thing down from the mountains in a pickup truck. With Feldt’s help, he unloaded the slab, prepared and leveled the site and constructed the bench. On a separate block he affixed a plaque reading, “For our friend, Grandpa Tony Marimpietri.” He covered the bench and block with a tarp so the epoxy holding the plaque in place could dry for 24 hours.
The next day was Halloween, when the neighborhood every year holds a potluck part. On an impulse, Ironwoods resident Ginny Thompson sent an e-mail out proposing to unveil the bench before the potluck.
“I sent out this note and went and bought a couple bottles of wine,” Thompson said. “I only gave everybody about two hours’ notice, so I didn’t expect much turnout. I figured, worst case scenario, I’d have a glass of wine with a neighbor.”
She should have bought more wine. Despite the short notice, more than 20 residents showed up, along, of course, with lots of kids and dogs.
Vince Norako, a good friend of Grandpa Tony’s, offered an eloquent toast, and Marimpietri’s son Tony, who lives with his family in Ironwoods, pulled the tarp off the bench.
“It meant a lot,” Tony Marimpietri said. “The neighborhood has been amazing.”
His father, he said, grew up in New York and worked in the restaurant business — “He said that during the Depression if you worked in a restaurant, at least you could eat,” he said.
Marimpietri the elder opened two restaurants of his own in New Jersey and eventually moved into the wine business, becoming a sommelier. He moved to Ironwoods in 1991 and immediately began to make friends.
“Dad was very gregarious, and people responded to him because he was authentic, because he was legitimately interested in them and their lives,” Tony Marimpietri said. “He always stopped to talk, and people were always visiting him at his home. They would take him to the store or to his favorite restaurant, Italian Pizzeria III. As he was going through the dying process, so many people went to Hospice to visit with him and say goodbye. The people at Hospice told me they’d never seen anything like it.
“Everyone was very, very supportive. They say it takes a village to raise a child. Well, it takes a village to care for the elderly, too.”