Nicholas Bernard Mangione, a self-made real estate developer who owned country clubs, nursing homes and a radio station, died Sunday at Greater Baltimore Medical Center of complications from a stroke. The Hunt Valley resident was 83.
The owner of Turf Valley Resort and Hayfields Country Club, Mr. Mangione was the patriarch of a family whose businesses also include the Lorien nursing homes and radio station WCBM-AM.
"He was a guy I admired greatly. He stood up and supported what he believed in," said former U.S. Rep. Helen Delich Bentley. "He was a conservative person and a hard worker. He never forgot where he came from. He appreciated everything he had."
Born in Baltimore's Little Italy, Mr. Mangione spent his first eight years in a one-room apartment with an outdoor privy until his family moved several blocks north to a three-story rowhouse with two other families in the 800 block of Aisquith St.
In a 1995 article, Mr. Mangione told a Sun reporter that his father, Louis, an Italian immigrant who could not read or write, worked in the city water department until he died of pneumonia.
"A water main busted, and he refused to leave in the rain," Mr. Mangione said. "He was 42 and strong - a good, hardworking man who never lost a day's work all during the Depression - but he caught pneumonia and died."
He recalled that his family made do as well as it could.
"There was no welfare, no city pension," said Mr. Mangione, who began work at age 11. "We had little help from outsiders. Once a week, my brother and I would get a bag of flour from the church."
Mr. Mangione, the eldest son, sold newspapers three hours each afternoon, peddled shopping bags from 6 a.m. to midnight Saturdays at the Belair Market and learned shorthand and typing in his remaining hours at the old St. James the Less Commercial School.
By the time he was 15, he had his first full-time job and worked as an accounts-receivable clerk before joining another company as a secretary-bookkeeper.
In January 1943, a month before his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the Navy and was assigned to a destroyer, the USS Caperton. He survived some of the bloodiest battles of the South Pacific, including the Battle of Philippine Sea in June 1944.
"He was one of those guys who wouldn't talk about his experiences in the war," said a son, Sam Mangione. "He attended the annual reunions of his shipmates and was the host for one in Baltimore."
In 1949, after study at the Maryland Institute evening school, Mr. Mangione became a contractor, laying bricks while his partner, Michael Demarino, did the estimating. Several years later, he bought out his partner and continued working 14- to 16-hour days.
In newspaper interviews, Mr. Mangione said his motivation for hard work was his wife, Mary - "the best thing that ever happened to me" - and their growing family of five sons and five daughters.
"I was telling my wife as each child was born that I had to work that much harder," he said in the 1995 interview. "God would provide the job I needed, and I would make the low bid. Every time my wife had a baby, there was another job to build."
After two decades of government contracting, he began building and owning nursing homes, office buildings and hospitals - including Fallston General in Harford County.
Family members said Mr. Mangione dreamed of creating a signature project, Turf Valley Golf and Country Club, now Turf Valley Resort, which he purchased in 1978. They said he was an entrepreneur and took risks.
"Tongues started wagging," Mr. Mangione said in the article. "People [were] wondering where an unknown Italian could get the money for a $5 million project. In those days, there were no Italians in real visible positions [in Howard County]. People thought I needed money from the Mafia to buy this place. They asked me what family I belonged to. I told them, 'I belong to the Mangione family. The Mangione family of Baltimore County.' "
Mr. Mangione said he caught a whiff of bigotry in the early 1970s while playing golf as a guest at the Baltimore Country Club and at the Elkridge Club.
"It was because I was Italian, plain and simple," he said.
Over the years, Mr. Mangione was given numerous honors - he was named the Outstanding Business Person of the Year by the Pikesville Chamber of Commerce and he supported many charities, including Loyola College, the Association of Italian-American Charities, Associated Jewish Charities and the Baltimore Opera Company.
Mr. Mangione, who liked to listen to talk radio, bought WCBM-AM nearly 20 years ago.
"He was a man of his word. He was also a tough negotiator," said Tom Marr, a WCBM radio host. "At the station, he was not a micromanager, but he was a microlistener. He loved talk radio."
The 1995 Sun profile described Mr. Mangione as "relaxed, warm, gracious and hospitable," but went on to say that when he talked about government bureaucracy, his demeanor changed.
"His body tenses and his voice becomes agitated. In that moment, he appears the embodiment of anger," the profile said.
"If people treat me in a fair and honest way, we get along fine," Mr. Mangione said.
Although he played golf once a week, he practiced by hitting balls into a field, which his sons would catch with baseball gloves.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Thursday at St. Isaac Jogues Roman Catholic Church, 9400 Old Harford Road.
In addition to his son and wife of 58 years, the former Mary Cuba, survivors include four other sons, Louis Mangione, John Dino Mangione, Nicholas Mangione Jr. and Peter Mangione, all of Towson; five daughters, Rosemary Juras of Ellicott City, and Linda Licata, Joanne Hock, Frances O'Keefe and Michelle Collison, all of Towson; a sister, Frances Marchese of Kingsville; and 37 grandchildren.