On Friday May 15th 2020, Pellegrino E. Manto, “Perry”, the heartbeat of our family, passed away peacefully. This was just one week after celebrating his 94th Birthday and one week before his momentous 70th wedding anniversary, to his loving wife Mildred (nee Russomano). Left to carry on his beautiful spirit, are his daughters, Joanne Gocel (Stanley) and Cynthia Manto, his son Joshua Manto, his grandchildren Daniel Gocel (Casey), Michael Gocel (Natalie), Jeffrey Gocel (Margot) and the lights of his life, his six great-grandchildren Frankie, Denali, Perry, Lucy, Sylvie, Magnolia and his little sister, Josephine Lavan.
Perry was born in Newark, N.J., on May 7th 1926, to Francesca and Eugenio Manto, who emigrated through Ellis Island, from the town of Altavilla, Italy. Named for the Patron Saint of their village, San Pellegrino, Perry always possessed an infectious zest for life. Together with his brothers and sisters Molly, Sonny, Vera, Frank and Jo, his young life was filled with laughter, great food, family, and all the rich Italian American traditions that he would later pass on to his children and grandchildren.
Although his father was a barber by trade, he moonlighted as a magician and entertainer, often bringing Perry along as his assistant. It was here that young Perry began developing his legendary sense of humor, unmistakable wit and endearing charm. Coupled with his natural rhythm and infectious smile, Perry was always the life of the party. His greatest joy was making other people happy starting with his wife Millie. Together, for over 70 years, they laid the foundation from which this beautiful family was built.
In 1955, Perry, Millie and his sibling’s families, moved into two three-family houses next door to each other, where every day was a party. He was the family chauffer, happy to take a car full of cousins to the park, store, church or the movies. Summers were spent at Cheech and Sonny’s shore houses where the whole family would gather and revel in the simple joys of life and love. In addition to his crabbing prowess, “Uncle Per’s” unorthodox swimming lessons were a rite of passage for all the young cousins, as was waking up to fresh doughnuts and other delicious surprises.
An early retirement from his career as a machinist and union shop steward allowed him to focus on his true passion, being with his grandsons. From driving the kids to school, to going on class trips, Perry never missed an event. He played games, took them on weekly drives, introduced them to his favorite things and showered them in love. He was even an usher in his grandson’s weddings. You would often see him walking up to games with his folding chair under one arm and a bag of junk food in the other, ready to offer pitching advice or the occasional criticism of opponents and officials alike.
When the games were over, the fun continued with weekly Wednesday night dinners and huge holiday feasts with the whole family. The Manto family was always happiest around the dinner table. As the unofficial Mayor of the Garwood Shop Rite, he would hold court in the aisles and always come home with the finest selection of meats and freshest produce in town. Millie and Perry never hesitated to travel statewide to find the crustiest bread, the sweetest pie or the perfect hot dog. His antipasto was legendary, artfully crafted from freshly roasted peppers and precisely rolled meats, a skill he lovingly passed down to his grandsons to be cherished for generations to come.
Although food and family were his greatest loves, he had a diverse array of interests. He had a quick wit and was a prolific punster. He loved woodworking, balancing his checkbook, etching his name on everything he owned, savoring Millie’s delicious cooking, buying Hess trucks the first day they were available, listening to jazz and big bands, collecting coins and stamps, “scootching” you to death, word puzzles, supporting labor unions, voting, forcing everyone to do their taxes as soon as possible, reading multiple newspapers daily, telling jokes, clipping coupons, creating elaborate monetary gifts, supervising construction projects, blowing up balloons, decorating for birthdays and all other holidays, Members Only jackets, teaching, Christmas Clubs, the Lindberg ladder, mispronouncing names, ordering the wrong thing at restaurants, overtipping, 7:30 mass, anything Italian (except pasta), king crab legs, steamers, cannolis, all sports, going to the fights, sitting in the sun (and tanning instantly), swimming, driving, back seat driving, to name a few. He hated getting gifts, but loved to give them. If you ever mentioned that you liked a certain product, there would be 3 of them on your doorstep the next day. He was also a fabulous dancer and could whip up the most delicious Zabaglione.
Always the gentleman, Perry respected everyone and taught us all selflessness, kindness, respect and generosity. He left an indelible imprint on many lives playing the role of perfect, fun-loving father, universal grandfather and professional lover of life. People of all ages were drawn to his youthful spirit which never diminished. He is survived by the love of his life Millie, sister Jo, his adoring children, loving grandchildren & great-grandchildren, countless admiring nieces and nephews, friends, neighbors and his Russomano in-laws, whom he loved as his own. He was predeceased by his parents, brothers and sisters and his infant son, Richard, who all await him in heaven.
Due to the current situation, unfortunately services will be private but we look forward to celebrating Perry’s amazing life with everyone when allowed. Please visit www.higginsandbonner.com to leave online condolences. Information about an upcoming virtual remembrance will be circulated shortly. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made in his memory to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital or Shiners Hospital for Children.
There are some people in this life you wish could live forever and our dear Perry was one of them.
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