Charles Piazza cares for others

Charlie Piazza, 1920 - 2003

Piazza's Floral Greenhouse is closing its doors.

FEATURE ARTICLE from THE MORNING JOURNAL, 4-9-00, By NORMA HIGGINS, Morning Journal Correspondent

"AVON -- Sitting in a pool of bright spring sunlight, luxurating in the greenhouse warmth, the 79-year old patriarch of the Piazza family reminisces about the years his father and mother, sisters and brothers, all worked to create the Piazza Greenhouses, starting with 19 acres of outdoors that had to be planned for, worked on, and harvested carefully, all through the years, starting with the early twenties.

In 1921, Charlie Piazza, then youngest of six children, aged one, and his mother and father, Charles and Salvatora Piazza, moved from South Euclid, east of Cleveland, to the far west side, Avon, to a small farm on the rise of the northside of the hill at 35676 Detroit Road [The Pickering - Piazza House].

"My dad used to go to market with some friends from Avon, and this one friend mentioned there was a farm for sale in Avon," he explained, "I don't know how they got here, with a horse and wagon or an old truck, but they liked it and they stayed."

They raised fruits and vegetables, primarily grapes and had an orchard," explained Mr. Piazza, reflecting the lives of most of the truck gardeners that originally comprised early Avon.

When he came out of World War II military service in 1946, (Mr. Piazza served three years in the U.S. Army Airforce, starting out in France, transferring through the Phillipines, and Japan) he said, "I had a lot of ideas.''

"It (service career) took me all over,'' he laughed, "At their expense, I could never have seen all that on my own!"

"We (brother Leonard and himself) built the first small greenhouse in the fall of 1946, and we had our first crop in l947,' he explained. "We had mostly geraniums and bedding plants,'' he said.

Mr. Piazza has two children, a son James and a daughter, Shirley Piazza Doss, and presently has four grandchildren, all in Avon.

Piazza's Floral Greenhouse is now run solely by James Piazza and his wife, Mary Ellen, and is a leading local distributor of plants, including geraniums, herbs, and garden decor.

Piazza

Charlie Piazza tends to plants in the family's greenhouse in Avon. (MORNING JOURNAL/PAUL WALSH)

Mr. Piazza retired in 1985 at age 65, but retirement doesn't translate into inactivity. "I helped Jim for a while, he said. "In 1996 I went to St. John's West Shore Hospital as a volunteer.''

That opened a whole new world for the still very active almost octengenarian. "My late wife, Josephine, was ill at the time, and we had help in the house, so to take up a little time, I went to the hospital to help out."

"I started in 1996, I've been there four years." "I go five days a week, from 8 a.m. to 12 noon where I take care of outpatient registering."

He explained that while many of the tests and X-rays needed for preadmission sugery used to be done in physician offices, now the pattern is for the individual to come to the hospital, have their tests run, and the results are returned to the doctor.

Along with many seniors, Mr. Piazza also wonders how, with incrreasing costs, Medicare will fare in the future. "The costs are big and ever-increasing, and more and more people are coming in,"he pointed out.

He thoroughly enjoys his work at the hospital, and in four years has met many people, and a lot of the patients he encouters, coming consistently over the years, becoming friends. "Like the regulars, it seems as tho they have been coming forever," he said.

"It's been real good therapy for me, believe me," he pointed out,"In fact I look for Monday rather than Friday.!"

Then, with a ready smile, Mr. Piazza explained, "I come home, have lunch and then go down to the Avon Oaks Skilled Nursing Facility on French Creek Road.''

"I'm there from 1 to 4 p.m., while it is very different, I enjoy my work," he said.

"It's very sad, some of the people were there when my wife Josephine was a resident, and they are still there, just waiting," he said. "In some cases there are few visitors," he explained. "They sit in the doorway, and no one comes," he said quietly.

"My sisters took care of my mother and father at home," he said, "until they passed away," he said, explaining a style of family life that has all but vanished.

He expressed the fear that many older people have these days, "they don't want to be there," he said, "It's scary!"

Mr. Piazza qualified his opinion by saying that in many cases there is no satisfactory alternative for people who have outlived their families' ability to take care of them.

He commiserates with some of the residents (it could occur in any patient care facility). "Like one old fellow, he's just a little bit older than I am," said Mr. Piazza, "I see him evryday." "He says, I'd be better at home, I don't belong here," said Mr. Piazza. "They do get good care," he said, "and medical assistance is readily accessible."

"He's a sweethear!," said Miss Reidy, administrator of Avon Oaks, complimenting Mr. Piazza, "he's really like a personal friend to some of the people." "He's very caring and spends a lot of time with them," she said.

What does he do for fun? "Jim is always telling me, 'do something for fun', he explained, his sun-tanned face, topped with silver shite hair, relaxed.

"We never had hobbies or anything like that, we worked, " he explained, " now, when people have time off or retire, they golf, they sail, they travel, but for us, we're lost."

"We worked on the farm, growing and picking, and we skipped our childhood."

"That's why we got the greenhoouse, it had to be easier, and it was!", he acknowledged. "Outside we had no control, but now we have computers to control the heat and other operations,"

"Still, the season never ends, it never starts, it just keeps going," he says, waving brown fingers toward the fully laden greenhouse, beautiful with spring flowers.

"You're always working several months ahead of a holiday," he explained, "such as Easter, it was started several months back around Christmas time -- you're always overlapping."

"Actually you don't have enough months in the year, you need an extra one to come out right!", he said, "And we never stop!"

Talking about the years when there many greenhouses dotted the Avon landscape, he explained the demise of these same units due to the cost of fuel. "The reason we're losing tomato growers," he said, "Their heating bills are hurting them." "You could see them heating in the middle of summer with the vents open. Vegetables take a lot more heat than flowers."

Certainly Mr. Piazza has a positive attitude about his own future and that of his family, and for people in general. "What am I really glad about? That they (later generations) don't have to do through what we did at their age."

He referred to a magazine written primarily for seniors, with articles about the nineteen twenties, thirties, and forties. These were the days of Shirley Temple, the Tin Lizzie, the icecream social, hopskotch, the time when every lady bought a new hat and wore it for the first time on Easer, of home remedies, great family reunions, and Bank Night at the movies.

Sometimes accused of looking back at the old times, he defends his position, "I'd like young people to read that, it tells about the Great Depression, (which wasn't so great) and the bad times." "That's when we grew up, we were "depression kids',"he said, insisting, "I'm glad they are not having it so difficult, no way, no way!"

Holy Trinity Church at Nagel Road was an important part of their social life as he noted, "we were married there, had first communion confirmations there, and they will probably bury us," he said,

"We spent twelve years in school at what was then and is now known as the Village School," he said, "eight grades downstairs and four grades upstairs."

"When we got to be freshmen, the three schools, two catholic and one public,came together, and while we started out with 60 kids, only 24 of us graduated," he said. "Everyone else had had to quit to go back on the farm, times were tough and the folks needed us at home," he said.

"I graduated in 1938 in the auditorium, before the addition was put on," he said. "Mr. Blake (Waldo Emerson Blake), also known as "Lefty" was principal at the time, what a gem!" said Mr. Piazza of the former administrator.

"He knew we had to stay a home to work, but as long as we could keep our grades up, it was OK," he smiled. "He always said he knew if it was a rainy day, all the boys would be in school!"

"And most of us liked school, we did!", he emphasized, "our vacation started when school started, not like today, when school ends for the summer." "Mr. Blake was really nice, easy and understanding; and we liked him," he said.

Well, my wife Josephone and I had 50 good yeears of married life, and we did a lot of traveling."

Mr. Piazza has a good sense of humor and he said, "we would visit army buddies all over the country, but one time we went to Las Vegas, and after that no matter where we went we had to go eventually to Las Vegas because my wife enjoyed it."

"One time we made a trip to Minnesota and we had to return through Las Vegas,'' he quipped.

Is he still having a good time?

"I love my work, my days, he said, looking pensively at the glistening gardens under glass with pride. It is evident he feels he has used his time well, and is willing to share with others his good fortune!"

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FEATURE ARTICLE from The Press, 8-13-03, By Julie A. Short

``Charlie Piazza- flowers, smiles and a kind heart

AVON -- To the many new residents of Avon, Piazza's Floral Greenhouse is a place to purchase plants, flowers and garden décor. But to long-time residents, Piazza greenhouses are legendary. Future residents will never have the opportunity to know one of the men behind the famous business. Lifelong Avon resident Charles "Charlie" A. Piazza, 83, passed away August 2 [2003], leaving behind not only his surviving family members and a greenhouse, but also many others he touched with his smile and kind heart.

Born July 28, 1920, Charlie and his family moved to Avon from Richmond Heights when he was a year old, to a small farm on a hill [Pickering Hill] at 35638 Detroit Road. Charlie was the youngest of six children born to Charles and Salvatora Piazza. While on the farm, the family grew fruits and vegetables.

Charlie graduated from Avon High School in 1938 and served during World War II in the U.S. Army Air Corps in Europe and the Pacific. He began his career as a truck farmer after the war and built the greenhouse with his brother, Leonard, in 1947. They developed the business by growing plants in soil and started covering the plants under glass. Charlie was co-owner, florist and grower of Piazza Floral Greenhouse until his retirement in 1985. He continued to work part-time until 1991. Leonard can still be seen planting flowers and tending to plants throughout Avon.

Currently, Charlie's son Jim Piazza and his wife, Mary Ellen, run the business. Jim also serves as the planning coordinator for the city of Avon. Charlie's daughter, Shirley Doss, was a former councilwoman for the city of Avon in the mid 90s.

He enjoyed many blissful years of retirement until his late wife of 50 years, Josephine, became ill. It was at the time, 1996, that Charlie began volunteering at St. John West Shore Hospital. His warm smile greeted patients as he assisted them in the outpatient registration process. He also split his time volunteering at the Avon Oaks Skilled Nursing Facility.

"He came here almost everyday and had a very close relationship with the residents," Avon Oaks Administrator Joan Reidy said. "He became a part of our family. I will always remember how kind and gentle he was with the residents. He was a good guy who always had a smile on his face."

Reidy noted that Charlie began volunteering at the nursing home when his wife was a resident for a short time. "He was so thoughtful with his wife and extended that caring to the other residents, Reidy said. "When you entrust a nursing home to care for a loved one, it's nice to know that volunteers like Mr. Piazza are there looking out for them."

At Charlie's funeral last week, the mentioning of his children's civic involvement touched Reidy. "I didn't know Mr. Piazza when he was younger, but I think it is wonderful how he instilled a sense of civic responsibility in his children," she said. "That's something that takes time. They have all done good things for the city of Avon."

His record of volunteer service at St. John West Shore was impeccable. Hospital records show that Charlie logged 6,000 hours of volunteer time. "He came in five mornings a week, which was unusual for a volunteer assignment," Director of Volunteer Services, Roberta Jones said. "He was very helpful and friendly to the outpatients. Charlie would be someone that they regularly looked for.

"When patients who didn't know that he had passed away heard the news, they started to cry."

Jones also noted that many patients singled out Charlie on their hospital questionnaires, stating how friendly and courteous he was.

"I will always remember his smile and personality," she said. "He wasn't an overly talkative person, but he was always smiling."

Piazza was a lifelong member of Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Avon, where he was an usher. He also worked on the bingo team and was a Holy Name Society member. Holy Trinity Pastor, Fr. John Misenko met Charlie five years ago when Misenko came to the parish.

"Charlie was always known here and was identified for his welcoming smile," Misenko said. "He was a regular at 10:30 a.m. Mass and was the first person to welcome people in with a church bulletin and a smile. He also worked bingo for us. When the bingo players thought of him, they thought of a smile. He loved people and he loved being of some type of assistance."

Misenko's fondest memories of Piazza were the little things he did that no one ever knew. "He would visit nursing homes and if someone at the home didn't have a visitor or any family around, he would take them out. Last Sunday I was thinking of Charlie because there was a shortage of bulletins and I began looking through the pews for extras people had left behind. It made me think of Charlie because that is something he did week after week.

"He had his health problems, but he kept them to himself. He was more interested in other people. He truly inspired people. At St. John West Shore he was known by the staff as everybody's grandpa."

Holy Trinity weekend associate, Father Gerard Gonda, knew Charlie for more than 20 years. "At the funeral, I mentioned how Holy Trinity has changed from a country parish of 400 families, to now over 1,300 families," Gonda said. "It's nice when something grows, but it can start to lose its personal touch. Charlie, coming from the old Avon group, was a constant greeter at the back door of the church, preserving that personal touch and family atmosphere that the parish always had. All the new people are probably used to running out of a big suburban parish, but they got a touch of small town hospitality from him."

Gonda was impressed by the fact that Charlie always dressed up for church. "I try to give a homily once a year to remind people to dress appropriately for church," he said. "Charlie preached it at the back door. He added a certain amount of dignity and decorum to church services.

"When he came home from the hospital he had jeans and tennis shoes on. He knew what was appropriate with each situation."

What awed Gonda the most about Piazza was the way he took care of his wife at home before she passed away in 1999. "Personally I am most impressed by this," he said. "When the equipment she was hooked up to would malfunction during the night, he had to get up and flush out the tube. He really was a great loving servant to his wife and made sure that she was kept in a loving environment."

Some of Gonda's fondest memories include visiting the Piazzas and listening to Charlie talk about the history of Avon.

"He would describe the dirt roads and how often a bus would come in from Cleveland," Gonda said. "He was an eyewitness to Avon's history, I could picture Avon as he was describing where this or that house was. I was also touched by his little actions."

According to Avon Mayor Jim Smith, Charlie helped to put Avon and Lorain County on the map. "He was one of the few still left from the original greenhouse industry that was the largest employer in the area," Smith said. "Avon was at one time the 'largest city under glass east of the Mississippi.' Mr. Piazza and his brother were hard working guys who worked 20-hour days. They were the cornerstones of the vegetable and flower industry.

"The whole family is nice," Smith continued. "Mr. Piazza never had a bad word to say about anybody. He loved flowers and his children. He was always there when people needed flowers donated."

Jim Piazza will always remember his father has being "Mr. Nice Guy." "He always looked for the good in people," he said. "Dad was the grower and marketer of the business and Uncle Leonard was the nuts and bolts guy working behind the scenes on maintenance. Dad was so friendly and knew so many people that when visitors would come into the greenhouse to make a purchase, he would charge them depending on how well he knew them. He probably gave away 50 percent of the stuff for free."

Jim also commented on how amazed his father was at the growth in Avon. "He would say things like 'grandpa would roll over in his grave if he could see the changes,'" he said. "Dad liked the fact that the parish (Holy Trinity) was growing. He worked bingo every Thursday night as a cashier for years. On Holy Thursday and Thanksgiving when there was no bingo, my dad didn't know what to do with himself."

Avon lost a true legend with the passing of Charlie Piazza, but his spirit and memory will live on forever through the beautiful flowers throughout the city and the smiles on the faces of those he knew.

Charlie is also survived by sisters Grace Corso of North Fort Myers, Fla., and Rose Spondike of Avon and four grandchildren.''

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Morning Journal, 7-23-04, By JENNIFER HICKIN, Morning Journal Writer

``Avon greenhouse going out of business after 57 years

AVON -- After almost 57 years in the community, Piazza's Floral Greenhouse is closing its doors.

''We've got some sad feelings but some good feelings as well,'' said Jim Piazza, who runs the business with his wife, Mary Ellen.

Although the Detroit Road business has been going well and the couple was not looking to sell, when approached the Piazzas decided to take someone up on the offer.

''The lawyers are still working on the paperwork,'' said Piazza, who said he is not at liberty to disclose details of the sale.

Piazza did say the potential buyer is local and intends to run the greenhouse at least through the winter and rent out the homes on the property. However, the sale is not contingent on the buyer continuing the business, he said.

A going-out-of-business sale began this week at the greenhouse, which was started in 1947 by Piazza's father and uncle. The official closing of the business is expected no later than Sept. 1 [2004], Piazza said ...

''It's time to start another career,'' said Piazza, who also works as the city's planning coordinator.''

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