Westminster's vibrant Tony D brought the feast of life to all

March 23, 2004|By MICHAEL OLESKER

ON THAT historic Carroll County day when Anthony Pasquale "Tony D" D'Eugenio, of Italian heritage, sat down to discuss the sale of his delicatessen to William "Billy" Schroeder, of Polish and German descent, the conversation naturally got right to the important business of America.

"The antipastos stay," declared Tony D.

"Of course," said Billy. "Of course."

"And all the sauces, and the sausages ..."

"Of course," said Billy. "But I'm Polish. Can I sell Ostrowski's Sausage, too?"

"Sure," said Tony D. "As long as the Roma stays in the counter, too."

"Of course," said Billy. "And, on St. Patrick's Day?"

"Yeah, you can sell some of that Irish corned beef, too."

And on and on, just like that.

"That's how it had to be," Schroeder was saying over the weekend, when they laid Tony D to rest.

We live in America, where we trade off the best from each other's backgrounds. But we want to hold onto the essentials, as well: antipastos and sausage to remind us where we came from, and Sinatra's voice still filling the air, and a sense of the great American ethnic game coming together in all its good cheer.

And so in July, when Tony D sold Schroeder his Giulianova Groceria, at 11 E. Main St. in Westminster, "It was part of the contract. The sauces, the sausages, the layout, the name of the place -- they had to stay the same," Schroeder said. "Tony was concerned about selling it to the right person, who wasn't gonna change things."

But the loss of Tony D will inevitably change things in Westminster. The big guy died last week, at 65, after complications from heart-valve surgery. Tony took all the big-city tumult of East Baltimore, where he grew up and learned about music and food and the American ethnic mix, and brought it to the relative quiet of Carroll County.

Last week, at the Pritts Funeral Home, they had him laid out with his valve trombone at his side. When the saints go marching in, they'll have Tony blowing an upbeat tempo. That was his essence: always making enough noise to wake up sleepy Main Street or wherever he was tooting his horn and his glad personality.

He did it with the Italian Hoagie Eating Contest he sponsored every year. The money went to the Carroll County Arts Council to provide musical instruments for children who couldn't afford them.

And he did it, for years and years, playing at three presidential inauguration parties, and playing weddings and bar mitzvahs and clubs and taverns where the smoke was so thick the musicians couldn't see from one end of the room to the other.

"All those years playing in those smoky clubs where you couldn't see who was standing a few feet away from you," Tony's brother Lou was remembering. The brothers often played dates together. "I'd come home, and my wife would be standing at the door, saying, `Get out of those smoky clothes.'"

At the funeral home, somebody posted a sign: "Tony D'Eugenio: Our Own P.T. Barnum."

Barnum's name is synonymous with the circus; Tony D was a one-man circus, a Main Street festival, an emotional smorgasbord. To talk to him was to hear a conversation turn into a linguistic jazz riff.

"A big, fun-loving guy who acted like he didn't have a care in the world," said Harriet Ackerman, lunching on Main Street last week. She and her husband, Al, knew Tony for years.

"I'd go into the place even if I didn't want to buy anything," said Steve Director, a Westminster restaurant cook. "He was a guy you just wanted to talk to. He brightened the day. I don't know how we replace a guy like this."

"He loved Westminster," said Schroeder, working the counter at Tony D's old place over the weekend. Outside, friends had dropped off numerous bouquets of flowers, and Schroeder had draped black bunting over the doorway. "He used to say, `This is America. You don't need to buy a Norman Rockwell painting to see America, it's right here on Main Street.' But he was concerned about Main Street, too."

It's an old concern for Carroll County, which wrestles with the inevitable future -- with its highways and billboards and shopping malls -- while trying to hold on to some of its rural, languid past. Tony understood that. The guy from Highlandtown, who never imagined he'd like Westminster, learned to treasure its pace and its people.

But as he looked around Main Street, with its sunny shops and library and nearby McDaniel College, he wondered why it seemed so undiscovered by so much of the rest of the state.

"He wanted to wake the place up," Schroeder said. "He wanted people to know we were here."

That's what the horn-playing was all about: waking people up, having a good time in the short run.

And it's what those hoagie-eating contests were about: turning life into a feast.

The hoagie-eating contest returns in May with the Westminster Flower and Jazz Festival. This time, the annual tribute to gluttony will be called the Tony D'Eugenio Memorial Hoagie Eating Contest.

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