We Remember Anthony Valentino Sr.
May 10, 1947 – June 20, 2022
Friday, June 24, 2022
By Mark J. Valentino
We gather this summer afternoon in this beautiful sunlit church—historic Notre Dame de Chicago—to celebrate the life of Anthony Valentino Sr.
It was here, in this sacred space, where Anthony received the sacraments of First Holy Communion and Confirmation and attended Notre Dame Academy when the school stood next door.
Anthony was the loving husband of Diane “Dee Dee” Valentino for 49 incredible years—50 if you count their year-long courtship; the adoring father of Deanna and her significant partner, Kenny; Renee and her husband Gerard; and Anthony, and his wife, Kelly. He was a doting “papa” to Gerard, Nicolas, and Michael. And the much looked-up to “big brother” of Randy, and his wife, Fran; Michael and his wife, Theresa; and Mark and his wife, Carmen. He was the uncle of many nieces and nephews and a friend to everyone who met him during his 75 years of life.
Anthony loved his family; his closest and dearest friends; God our Father, Jesus, His Son, and our beloved, Mother, Mary. He was guided by the Holy Spirit. And they are all depicted there, right over my left shoulder.
He also was fond of many things—the Chicago Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks come to mind; a delicious Italian meal—without the pasta, of course; a good cigar on the patio on a warm summer evening; and a classic movie—often on the couch with Kenny. Oh yes, and every episode of The Soprano’s on HBO.
Do you remember the iconic baseball movie, Field of Dreams? It was one of Anthony’s favorite sports movies.
One of the most famous scenes in the movie came when Chicago White Sox legend “Shoeless Joe” Jackson, looking back as he heads into the corn stalks in the glimmering light of a pristine baseball diamond, hewn from a cornfield by homestead owner Ray Kinsella.
Shoeless Joe calls back to Kevin Costner, in the role of Ray, and his wife, Annie, played by Amy Madigan, and asks, “Is this Heaven?”
Sheepishly and simply, Ray replies, “No, it’s Iowa.”
Reflecting on the life of my “big brother” Anthony this past week and trying to capture the flood of memories as a result of his sudden passing, I thought of this movie.
I thought of those splendid blades of grass beneath the feet of “Shoeless Joe” when he asked that immortal question, “Is this Heaven?” And I thought of that roughly three-foot-by three-foot space beneath his feet.
An odd thought at a time like this, don’t you think? A three-foot-by-three-foot space, especially considering the sheer size of my brother.
When Michael and I were children, he was a larger-than-life superhero, just as he was to Deanna, Renee, and Anthony and then to his grandchildren Gerard, whom he loved to call “G,” Nicky and Mikey.
Then it hit me. Wherever Anthony went, that three-foot-by-three-foot space beneath his feet was his “Heaven on Earth.” You see, wherever my “big brother” stood, casting his significant shadow, he found joy and love in the faces and embraces of his beloved family and friends.
Anthony didn’t need to travel the world over to find his “Heaven on Earth.” Like the simple answer that Ray Kinsella gave to the question asked by Shoeless Joe Jackson, Anthony didn’t allow life to get too complicated.
Randy summed it up best when he said that even though Anthony didn’t have a big corporate job, he was the hardest working and most generous husband and father he knew and gave as much love and attention to Dee Dee, his children, and grandchildren that any husband, father, and grandfather ever could.
Anthony Jr. also acknowledged how hard his dad worked his whole life—especially for three-plus decades as a butcher and driver at the Randolph-Fulton Market. “He taught me how to be a man. How to play catch, tie a tie, take on new responsibilities. No matter how tired he was, he was always willing to be my dad. He would wake up at 2:30 in the morning to go to work and yet he would come to my football games at Glenbard North High School and attend my baseball and basketball games, even at 8 o’clock at night.”
When “G”, Nicky and Mikey began playing sports, Papa Anthony was always there. Gerard recalls that his grandpa never missed any of his sporting events in over ten years. Sometimes, Anthony would get a little over enthusiastic and a referee would ask him to wait in his car until the game was over. When “G” hit a buzzer-beating three point shot to win a basketball championship, Papa Anthony leapt to his feet, arms raised in triumph.
Over the past two baseball seasons, as Anthony was battling leukemia, his son-in-law, Gerard, whom he loved to call “Q,” would pick him up and take him to Nicky’s and Mikey’s baseball games. He would set up a chair away from the crowds so that Anthony could be safe yet watch the games.
A three-foot-by-three-foot space down the sidelines of a football or baseball field or a basketball court. That’s where Papa Anthony sat to watch the games—that’s where Anthony found “heaven on earth.”
Deanna and Renee recalled their dad’s incredible generosity and fun-loving ways.
“When we were kids, in the summer, he would come home with anything we wanted—he would get out of his truck with a case of peaches or he would stop at the ice cream factory and open up the box the minute he stepped out of the truck to give all of the kids on the block ice cream,” recalled Deanna.
When the New Kids on the Block were performing and the girls were teenagers, Anthony would come home from work and take them to see their tour bus or go from hotel-to-hotel downtown to see where they might be staying.
Renee recalled that one day while in high school at Glenbard North—her dad picked her up in front of the school building were many of her classmates gathered. “The bumper of my dad’s car had fallen off and was sticking out the back window and I was embarrassed to get in because all my friends were looking at me. I was pretending not to know him as he was waving at me, and I could see he was getting madder and madder. Finally, I told him to drop off the bumper at home and then come back and get me—and he did!”
Oftentimes, as parents, we don’t realize what stays with our children as they grow older. Anthony, Deanna, and Renee shared that their dad would only get two weeks’ vacation every year. Anthony would take one week in the summer and do anything the family wanted: they would eat at some of Chicago’s best restaurants, or go to Kiddie Land, Brookfield Zoo, or Navy Pier. “He made our summer vacations the best he could for us,” Renee recalled. “And then, he would give up his second week of vacation at Christmas-time for the money instead so we could have everything we wanted under our Christmas tree.”
In 2014, Deanna became sick with a brain infection because of an abscessed tooth. Anthony and Dee Dee had saved for a family vacation to Florida, and they would have lost a lot of money if they cancelled. So, Anthony stayed back with Deanna and cared for her and never left her side.
“He took such good took care of me. He gave up his own vacation for me. It was amazing how much he loved all of us—I was 46 years old when I took my car for an oil change for the first time in my life—only because he was too sick with leukemia.
“He always took care of everything for Renee, Mom, and me—we never had to worry about a thing.”
Michael recalls that for his Papa’s 75th birthday on May 10—they wore the same purple shirts.
I’d like to share a childhood memory from my brother, Michael.
“When I was a boy, I shared the same boyhood heroes with many of my friends: Gale Sayers, Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Bobby Hull. But I had one hero that my friends didn’t have. In 1965, as the Viet Nam War continued to escalate, Anthony was drafted into the Army. After boot camp at Fort Polk, Louisiana, Anthony was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. For two years, life didn’t seem as secure without my big brother around. In 1967, when Mark and I were nine, Anthony came home on furlough.
“Life seemed safer, more secure again. When it was time to return to Fort Bragg, dad drove Anthony to the airport and our whole family went with. Anthony wore the Army’s green dress uniform that day, and as we walked around O’Hare Airport, I clung close to my big brother. I never felt so proud. The big handsome soldier in his dress greens was my brother. And seeing Anthony in that uniform redefined for me what a hero was. From then on, Gale Sayers was second on my list. My brother Anthony took top place.”
Now, before we petition Pope Francis for sainthood for Anthony, I believe we need to look at another side of him.
On a winter Saturday morning, when Michael and I were about seven years old, with Dad at work and Mom grocery shopping, Anthony was sick in bed with the flu and a terrible headache. Our boyhood friend, Bobby Marcum, who lived across the street came over to play with us. We decided to bring out our electronic football game to play with on the kitchen floor.
Mistake number one.
The game was played on a tin football field with these miniature plastic players that had little plastic tips underneath them. The players moved when you cranked up the juice on the game and they vibrated noisily across the field.
I decided to crank up the juice to try and score and the noise got even louder.
Mistake number two.
The following is an edited version of what Anthony yelled from his bedroom. “Lower the noise on that darn game or I’m gonna come out there and bend it over your head!”
I looked at Michael and Bobby and I could see sheer terror in their eyes. I cranked the game to level number ten. It began to vibrate wildly across the kitchen floor.
Mistake number three.
In an instant, the door of his bedroom flew open and out came Anthony in his white boxer shorts and t-shirt. Without a word (or maybe it was a lot of words I can’t repeat here), he yanked the football game from the socket and in one motion, literally bent it over my head. Then, he headed back to his room.
I began to cry and then I took off a shoe and threw it at him. Anthony ducked and it hit Bobby instead. Michael and Bobby pried the football game from my head, and we tried to bend it back into shape. But there was a perfect crease at the 50-yard line and all the players would just get stuck in the crevice. So much for that football game, but it was a lessoned learned—don’t mess with a sleeping bear.
I would like to close with a final reflection. One last reminder of the enormous capacity for love, pain, commitment, tenacity, and loyalty that Anthony had for his family, his friends, and for me personally.
Many of you know that I started the Gazette Chicago newspaper right here in this neighborhood in 1983. We just began our 40th year of publishing in May. In addition to working as hard as Anthony did at the Fulton Market, he was with me from nearly from the very start, driving one of the circulation routes, along with my dad, Ralph.
When Anthony Jr. mentioned his dad’s life as a butcher and prior to that as a laborer working outdoors, you need to know that the trials and tribulations of those jobs caught up with Anthony. His body was wracked with pain for the past 15-plus years from severe arthritis in his neck and spine. And then, on top of that, leukemia began to rage within him.
Yet, Anthony never backed away from his work at Gazette Chicago.
In recent years, as he was now the only driver on the street for me, I would ask him to step back and let me or others share the driving over those three days of the month to get the newspaper delivered to some 600 stops in ten different neighborhoods. Anthony wouldn’t have any of that.
He loved driving for the newspaper even though we both knew his back was hurting like crazy and he would be sore for several days afterwards. And he did this in below zero weather and 100-degree heat.
The only time that took Anthony off the route recently was during his valiant battle against leukemia and when he recently had another surgery on his neck. Once he was in remission, he began driving again. His tolerance for pain was that of an NFL football player. It also showed with the many bone biopsies he had at University of Chicago Medicine and during his chemo regimen.
I want to thank “Q” for stepping in to help by driving the route for his beloved father-in-law. Anthony also got tremendous joy when “G” started helping and my son, Christopher joined in, too. Anthony loved having the boys with him all day on Friday and the conversations they had and then when “Big Jake” came to help on the weekend to finish things off. When I called Jake on Tuesday to tell him that Anthony passed away, this mountain of a man—Jake is 300 pound plus and a part-time wrestler, broke down and cried on the phone.
A three-foot-by-three-foot space beneath his feet. That’s all my dear brother needed to find “Heaven on Earth.”
May we all be so lucky.
And so, we will soon leave this church and bring Anthony home to his final place of rest. But my faith tells me something. My faith tells me that Anthony is here present with us now—smiling down and grateful for the outpouring of love each of you have given to Dee Dee and his family. For the beautiful liturgy provided by Father Peter, Father Kevin, Catherine, and Darren—thank you. And, for all of you here present.
We have many wonderful memories of Anthony—as Father Peter said, keep telling the stories and keep his memory burning brightly in your hearts.
Pray for Anthony and reach out and pray to him—for guidance and strength, courage, and hope when you need it. He isn’t going to stop loving you just because he’s made his transition to Our Father in Heaven.
We love you, Anthony. We always will.
You will always be my “big brother” and I could never thank you enough for what you have done for me and so many others in our lives.
I think it’s safe to say that you no longer need to look down at that three-foot-by-three-foot space beneath your feet to find “heaven on earth.”
Heaven has found you.
Rest well. Enjoy a nice Sunday meal with Mom and Dad—no pasta, of course.
Love you, Anthony. Now, forever, and until we meet again.