Michael A. Calitri
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May 17, 1924 - November 19, 2013
With great sadness, the family of Michael Anthony Calitri announce that he passed away on Nov. 19th at 89 years old from complications of an emergency surgery three months earlier. He died peacefully with his only child Robin beside him after a series of surgery-related illnesses and hospitalizations. The week prior to his surgery, he enjoyed a healthful independence and spent the summer golfing. He will be very sadly missed by many friends and loved ones and a big Italian family.
He was born at home on a warm day in Rochester, New York on May 17th, 1924 to Carolina and Joseph Calitri, Italian immigrants from the villages of Melfi and Calitri in Campania. The only brother to six sisters, he was welcomed into this world by five of them and a dear mother who so yearned for a son that she proudly carried him house to house to share her joy with her neighbors. After Mike was born, she thought she had finally found "the recipe for boys," but the next year she gave birth to Mike's sixth sister which only increased his value.
This six-sister magic contributed special qualities to Michael. Robin has always said that being raised by a man who had six sisters spoiled her because he'd developed qualities sometimes discouraged in men; he was nurturing, sensitive, encouraging, comforting, graceful, compassionate, a good listener, a great cook, and the king of all hair braiders. Knowing how to talk with women gained him lifelong female friends in offices, restaurants, and businesses that he frequented. He encouraged waitress friends to go to college and took an interest in their children. He had longtime friendships with many who thought of him as a father figure, grandfather figure, and an always cheerful, warm friend. Six sisters provided the perfect environment for raising a decent man. His nature was compassionate and warm.
His decent and understanding character can be heard in comments of his many friends from all walks of life: "He always had a smile," "You never heard him say anything bad about anyone," "He sang songs for us," "If I was sad, just seeing him cheered me up," or " He was like family to me." He had steadfast friends and was welcomed everywhere he went, and in his later year always sported an Italian cap and in winter crocheted scarves. He was a warm and giving friend and stranger. He learned tolerance at an early age as he was born with what was then called a lazy eye. It wasn't until he was an adult that he had his eye straightened in a landmark surgery that he and his friend Dr. DuPont developed. He had suffered much ridicule because of this, but he said that he was never bitter about it. He thought that God had compensated him with other strengths.
These strengths were many. For example, he was a natural, first rate athlete in many sports--basketball, track, swimming, bowling, baseball, and golf. In fact, he still holds the batting record for East High in Rochester where recruiters offered him a minor league baseball contract in 1942. (The only reason he didn't take the opportunity, he said, was because "you only made $75 a month, and you had to wash your own uniform"). He played city league basketball and pitched and played third base in city league baseball in Los Angeles. And he loved long distance swimming, and once swimming in the ocean with his young daughter Robin, they got caught in a current and swam so far out that the Coast Guard picked them up. He was an elegant, champion golfer winning many tournaments. In his elder years, he still played golf regularly at his beloved Del Rio Country Club where he was a member for 44 years. He shot way below his age and was a man with a hundred true golf stories.
In addition to his athleticism, he had many talents and skills. He earned his real estate broker license as well as a metallurgist's certification from UCLA as a young man. He was a small business owner in Modesto for 35 years with his poultry equipment distributing company, Cal Western Poultry. In the late Sixties, he opened a branch of Hart Mfg., and selling Hart Mfg automatic watering and feeding systems for laying hens, he automated the egg industry in his territory, the entire Western US and Hawaii, within ten years and saved the company from collapse. (Have you ever seen chickens in Kaua'i? One of Mike's egg ranch accounts there had just installed the Hart equipment and birds when a hurricane blew the chicken ranch all over the island; thus, today there are wild chickens all over Kaua'i. Mike thought this was hilarious). Prior to Hart, he was a top steel and metals salesman for Balfour Guthrie in LA, selling steel to large accounts such as Lockheed Aircraft. And after the war when he worked as the superintendent of a high value warehouse for the war finance division in LA, he was the youngest executive with US Rubber in Manhattan.
Mike played the piano and the ukulele, and as a youth played the banjo as well. He loved music, especially jazz piano, and tells of having an old player piano in his room as a youth, one he'd taught himself to play by cutting sheets of wallpaper to cover one side of the player roll so he could play the accompaniment. He knew a song for any situation. He painted and drew beautifully, was a talented artist, even made ice sculptures in his yard as a youth, and was offered a job at Disney Studios. Amazingly he could grow, make, fix, or build anything. He built three houses in his lifetime, including the one he lived in when he died.
He will be forever missed by Robin, his many friends, and his large extended family, his last living sister Ida Zambito, and wonderful cousins, nieces, and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, his sisters Margaret Calcagno, Jean Zambito, Sue Henrich, Adoline Culota, and Silvia Palermo, and his best friend of 45 years, Bud Chinchiolo. His family wishes to thank the many caring doctors, expert nurses and ICU teams, and Chaplain Jerry Roberts at Memorial Hospital in Modesto for their skilled care during Mike's illness. The family also wishes to thank the caregivers at Alexander Cohen Community Hospice House in Hughson for uniquely loving care and compassion during Mike's final hours.
Mike was a gentleman with a huge, soft heart; twice a husband who was a hardworking and generous provider; a philosophical soul who cried over a beautiful composition, or photograph, or song; a man who loved to laugh; and a deeply spiritual Christian who really did live a righteous, quiet life, shared with his best friend, his loving daughter Robin. He believed that "you create your own environment" which is the key to contentment, that in life "it's easy to be nice to people" which makes everyone happy, and that on the golf course, you have to "swing hard in case you hit it." He was "one in a billion," and this world will be forever less without him.
A memorial tribute to this wonderful man will be held on Saturday, Dec. 14th, at 12 noon, in the Redwood Dining Room at Del Rio Golf and Country Club, 801 Stewart Road, Modesto, 95356.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be sent in his name to Alexander Cohen Hospice House, 4368 Spyres Way, Modesto, CA 95356-9259
Published in the Modesto Bee on Dec. 8, 2013