Anna Iacoboni, 98, volunteer for disabled children, elderly


Anna Iacoboni, who came to Baltimore as an immigrant and became the matriarch of her family with four generations of descendants, died of congestive heart failure Sunday at St. Joseph Medical Center. She was 98.

Born Anna DeNicolis in Brazil, where her parents were temporarily working, she grew up in the village of San Salvo in the Abruzzi region of Italy.

"As a child, she carried water from the town square to her home," said her grandson, Thomas M. Culotta, who lives in Remington. "She could talk about World War I troops coming through her village and how her family hid food from them."

She attended school until the third grade - the highest level available in her region - and sailed to Baltimore on her 17th birthday. She joined her father, who had come to America to work and sent money home to his family. She did not see her mother again for nearly three decades, until a visit to Italy in 1954.

"She didn't talk about the good old days. She said that life was rough in her youth and was tough for women and for immigrants," her grandson said.

Mrs. Iacoboni did sewing piecework and sold suit linings before her 1926 marriage to Camillo Iacoboni, who was then a laborer but soon founded an underground-utilities construction business.

"She and my grandfather lived in a third-floor apartment on Front Street on the site of the downtown post office," her grandson said. "Jews lived on the first floor, Greeks lived on the second, and they were on the third. She said no one spoke English well, nor could they understand each other."

He recalled yesterday that his grandmother cooked and heated the apartment with firewood her husband brought home.

Neither she nor her husband could read or write English, and he hired a lawyer to prepare the bills for sewers and conduits he was constructing.

"My grandmother spent $25 for a typewriter and copied the old bills, even though she didn't really know what she was doing. She always believed in doing the best with what you had," her grandson said.

After the birth of a daughter, Mrs. Iacoboni learned to speak English.

After living in the 300 block of E. 27th St., the Iacobonis moved to a house on Walker Avenue near Govans. She put in a quarter-acre garden and had 40 feet of grapevines. She made barrels of wine with the grapes - and vinegar when it went bad. Each summer she canned vegetables in a basement kitchen.

"She was the kind of person who could eat a peach, take its seed and three years later she'd be eating her own peaches from the original pit," her grandson said.

In 1976, when her husband died, the grieving Mrs. Iacoboni took a friend's suggestion and became a volunteer at St. Elizabeth's School, where she worked with disabled children.

"The work helped save her and bring her back to being her old self," her grandson said.

About 17 years ago she moved to a retirement residence St. Elizabeth's Hall at Stella Maris in Timonium. She earned 5,000 hours of volunteer time helping feed the elderly in the adjoining nursing home.

"It was a natural fit to have an Italian grandmother getting residents to eat," her grandson said. "She was amazing, how she would work her will. Until the end, she was strong."

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Leo Roman Catholic Church, Stiles and Exeter streets.

In addition to her grandson, survivors include two sons, Thomas C. Iacoboni and Anthony J. Iacoboni Sr., both of Lutherville; three brothers, Rocco F. DeNicolis of Parkville, Joseph DeNicolis of Pembroke Pines, Fla., and Angelo DeNicolis of San Salvo; two sisters, Vitalina Vicoli of San Salvo and Grazia Daniele of Australia; 14 other grandchildren; 28 great-grandchildren; and two great-great-granddaughters.

Mrs. Iacoboni outlived her two daughters. Mary Rose Iacoboni Shaw died in 1971, and Josephine Iacoboni Beck died in 1998.

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