–By John Lynds
Mr. Ruggiero, who had battled health issues this past year died on Friday, June 10 at the Chelsea Jewish Nursing Home. He was 77 years old.
Mr. Ruggiero was born in Boston on May 23, 1934 to the late Anthony and Eva (Scrocco) Ruggiero. He attended the Donald McKay and Roxbury Memorial High School.
Fifty-eight years ago he began his printing career as a compositor for the East Boston Times. It was at the old Times building on the corner of Border and Eutaw Streets where Josephine Pignato and Joseph Ruggiero Sr. romance began. She had worked as a proof reader alongside her future husband.
After of few years of courting Josephine, Mr. Ruggiero popped the question and the two were to be married in January, 1957 but Uncle Sam came calling.
With the draft still in effect, Joseph was called to serve in the U.S. Army and sent to Forth Bragg, N.C. where he’d be stationed for the next two years during the Korean War.
The wedding would have to be postponed.
They would eventually marry in July, 1957 but in the six months between Joseph leaving and Josephine reuniting with her love in North Carolina after the wedding, Joseph wrote a love letter to his fiance each and every day–sometimes twice a day. These letters were kept safe in a cigar box in Josephine’s room at her parents’ home on Princeton Street.
But after Josephine and Joseph were married and the couple finished up Joseph’s tour of duty in the Army, Josephine’s parents decided to sell their Princeton Street home and buy a larger, two-family home on St. Andrews Road. Josephine and Joseph lived on the first floor with their new son Joe while Mr. and Mrs. Pignato lived upstairs.
However, a casualty of the move was the cigar box filled with Joseph’s letters to his soon-to-be bride.
“I never knew what had happened to them,” said Josephine during an interview with the East Boston Times in January.
On December 16, 2010 Mr. Ruggiero suffered a fall at home and was forced to move into the Chelsea Jewish Nursing Home where he’d have the assistance he needed in his fragile state.
“That day has been so hard for me and I was not looking forward to remembering what happened when December 16 rolled around,” said Josephine.
As fate would have it, their son Joe II, community leader and owner of the Ruggiero Memorial Home, got a mysterious phone call at his office on December 16.
The caller, Dr. Barbara Biano, explained that she had bought a box of war and military memorabilia at a flea market in Lancaster a few years back and was trying to track down the author and recipient of the beautiful love letters.
The younger Ruggiero explained that the people that were subjects of the letters were his parents Josephine and Joseph. Dr. Biano told Joe II she wanted the rightful owners to have them back and express shipped the cigar box to East Boston.
On Christmas Eve, unbeknownst to his parents presented the cigar box as a Christmas gift, explaining how he got the phone call on the anniversary of his father being transfered to an assisted living home.
“Well we just burst into tears,” said Josephine. “Joseph has only been home once since moving into the home and this was the second time he was able to enjoy a holiday at his home. This was the best Christmas gift any parent could ever get.”
Before his death last week, Mr. Ruggiero said the finding of the letters was like a dream come true.
“What you see today started 54 years ago and we finally have the beginning again,” he said.
Mr. Ruggiero worked as a union printer for nearly a half a century and ended his career with the City of Boston Printing Plant in Boston’s North End.
He was a past member of the Typographical Union for over 50 years, a past member of the Courageous Generation – St. Lazarus Parish, Sons of Italy – Sempre Avanti Lodge 1600, as well as many other senior and community groups.
“His love and involvement in the East Boston community was only surpassed by his fervent dedication to his family, who always came first,” said his son Joe II. “He dedicated his life to his family and found much pleasure in helping me establish two successful funeral businesses.”
His greatest joy however was his life-long partner Josephine, or ‘JoJo’ as he affectionately called her.
Together the two experienced great joy coupled with terrible tragedy. The couple experienced every parent’s fear in 2002 with the sudden death of their son, Michael, at the age of 34.
“I think now my dad is finally at peace with his beloved son Michael and both will enjoy eternal happiness together,” said Joe II.
In his last years Mr. Ruggiero enjoyed sharing in the lives of his three grandchildren as they became successful young adults.