LA MIA FAMIGLIA
Daughter of Penns Grove’s first Italian family recalls Struggles, Striving and Strengths
By Donna Federanko-Stout
He had a certain future ahead of him. A boot maker by trade, like his brother, he had spent 4 years in apprenticeship to learn the business. It would be a
good living in his hometown in Italy…if he didn’t have the “wanderlust” and a feeling in his heart that something different, something better, something
exciting was somewhere across the great ocean in the land of America!
Pietro Montagnoli wanted to go to America. He had “paesano” (friends from his hometown, Valle San Giovanni) now living in America. His young wife and
their two children would stay in Italy until he found a home for them. With his cousin, Prospero Clemente, he came to America, stayed in Wilmington and
venturing across the Delaware River, found his land of opportunity, Penns Grove.
“My father liked it because it had the Railroad, the River (the Ferry) and the Steamboats,” says Filomena (Minnie) Quatrini, the daughter of Pietro and
Soccorsa Montagnoli. In 1902, the Montagnoli’s became the first Italian family to settle in Penns Grove.
Life was not easy then. Pietro worked hard shoveling coal on the Pennsylvania Railroad, picking strawberries on local farms, just about anything in order to
make a life for his family. They made their home in a small house on Church Street near the river.
Despite the barriers of language and the prejudice that faced the Italians in his day, Pietro became a successful businessman. In 1910, he opened his own
Bakery and Grocery store on Mill Street in Penns Grove. A little later, he built a beautiful new brick home for the family right next door to the bakery.
Over the tears, Pietro had written of life America and more “paesano” came to Penns Grove. The second family to settle here was the Prospero Clemente
family. Others followed and the Italian community grew. Many stayed with the Montagnoli’s until they got their feet on the ground. Pietro had paved the way.
As the Italian community grew, so did the Montagnoli’s - …to 10 children. Maria Guisseppe (Mary), Giovani (John), Vincenzo (James), Filomena (Minnie),
Rosina (Rose), Fillipo (Phillip), Afonso, Gianona (Jennie), Pietro (Peter) and Alfonzo (Fonzi). Maria Guisseppe’s nephew, Harry Clemente, came from Italy
at the age of 14 to live with them and was treated as a son.
But all of the children did not live to see adulthood. Serious childhood illnesses took the lives of two year old Alfonso, eight year old Giovani and 13 year
old Alfonzo. Once again, grief came over the Montagnoli household when Pietro died suddenly in 1921 at the age of 41 of a misdiagnosed ruptured
appendix. “We had three doctors,” Minnie said, “but by the time they took him to the hospital, it was too late.” Pietro’s dream would now have to be carried
on through his children, and their grandchildren.
After Pietro died, Soccorsa became deathly ill and was confined to bed for months. She could not run the bakery and there were 6 children left at home to
be cared for and fed. Minnie and her brother James were left to be the supporters of the family. Young 14 year old Minnie would get a job for $6 a week
working in the 5 & 10. “I worked 6 days a week” Minnie says, “and Fridays and Saturdays until 11 pm when the second show let out at the Broad Street
“I had to leave school,” Minnie recalls, “My mother didn’t want me to, but it had to be done.” Thoughtfully she adds, “I didn’t mind (working and leaving
school). It was my choice. I had to grow up overnight, but I did it. It kept our family together.”
Minnie’s 15 year old brother, James, also went to work as a barber. “We never felt deprived,” she says, “because it (the struggle) kept our family close.
Her grandmother helped care for them too and an uncle, who worked paving roads, helped when work resumed that spring. “Without them,” Minnie says, “I
don’t think we would have made it.”
The children grew, and Minnie continued to work. After the 5 & 10, she worked at Banco’s Store on Walnut Street and later Nocon’s Store on the corner of
Mill Street and Railroad Avenue. She was no stranger to hard work, just like her father. There she learned to be a female butcher. There she also met her
future husband, John. Together they worked side by side and later in 1936, Mr. and Mrs. John Quatrini worked and saved enough to open their own
grocery – Quatrini’s Market on the corner of East Main Street and Smith Avenue. In 1938, their grocery was the first in town to carry Birds Eye frozen
foods. They grew so fast, that in four years they had to enlarge the store. Her sister Jennie worked at the store too.
In 1940, Soccorsa went to be with her Pietro. “My mother and father were a great influence on me,” says Minnie. “They were the best set of parents,” she
says, adding “They gave us a good foundation and they taught us the most important things in life…love and respect.”
This past spring, Minnie Quatrini was selected to be honored as a “Woman of Achievement” by the Salem County Commission on Women. In a letter
written by her close friend, Janet Caggiano, Minnie’s life was described as one of courage, strength, and hard work. She became a successful
businesswoman, and an active member of many organizations in the community including the Library Association, the Salem County Soroptimist Society
and her church. After her husband’s death, she continued to operate the store until her retirement in 1985 with almost 50 years of service to the
At 88, Minnie is still quite active. While learning the grocery business, she taught herself to make attractive Fruit Baskets which she still does today. She
continues to drive, read, visit with nieces, nephews and friends, go out to dinner and remain abreast of all the current issues in the world today.
Minnie and her brother, Pete, are the only surviving children of the “first family.” Pete, who seems to have the “wanderlust” like the father he is named for,
has travelled the country and now makes his home in Las Vegas. He has a son, Peter, Jr. Mary’s children, Olga Stalcup, Albina (Bea) Lloyd, Flora and
John Banco all still live in the area. Flora is the owner of Banco’s Riverside Pantry, a property that has been in the Banco family since the 1930’s. James’
son Charles, lives in Sewell. Rose had two children, Hilda Davis and Arthur (Bucky) Maconi. Harry Clemente’s children are Robert and Christine.
On Sunday, July 2, as the daughter of the First Italian family to settle in Penns Grove, Minnie will be riding in the Mother of Grace Procession through the
streets of Penns Grove. The Mother of Grace celebration is a testimony to the faith, hopes, and beliefs of the ones who have come before us. It came from
the hometown that brought our first Italians. It brought the spirit and tradition of the celebration to Penns Grove. The spirit of faith, courage, strength and
love that now lives in the ancestors of the Montagnoli’s and of all the families who came to call this town their home. Pietro would be proud!