John Abbatacola is a resident at Embrace Living Communities’ Immanuel Residences community where he has lived for six years. John’s story is rich and exciting, and also tied to American singer and actor Mario Lanza, with whom John was friends for many years.
John met Mario when he was courting his wife Virginia. Virginia was the sister of Mario’s wife Betty. Soon after John and Virginia got married, they stayed at Mario and Betty’s house. John was initially skeptical of how close he and Mario would become. “When we were on the plane going to California, I knew nothing about Mario,” says John. “I thought, he is very famous, and you cannot go close to him. I am nobody. I just married into the family.”
What was supposed to be a short stay turned into a year-and-a-half of living together as the two couples got along so well. “In the beginning, I was very nervous, but we ended up being good friends,” says John. “[As a young marine,] Mario drove me back to camp every week.”
“Once, he asked me, ‘John, do you think I am a better man than you?’ I said, ‘Mar, yes. You have big money and a great voice.’ He said, ‘I asked you if I am a better man. I am not. God gave me this voice, and God will take it away. That does not make me a better man than you.’”
Mario died in Rome at age 38 after getting a clot in his leg. Later, John and Virginia opened a restaurant dedicated to Mario Lanza called “Mario’s.”
Susan Klein, Social Service Coordinator at Immanuel Residences, heard this story and decided to do something kind in response. “One day, I was watching television,” says John. “Susie said, ‘Can I see you for a minute?’ We went into her office, and she gave me something special that I still have: headphones loaded with music. Without knowing me, she gave me Mario Lanza’s music.”
Susan is certified in “Music and Memory,” part of the Alive Inside program, which provides specialized headphones to seniors that are loaded with music that is meaningful to them. This allowed her to give John a genuinely thoughtful gift, one that he will treasure and reminds him of a close friend.
“Our residents need emotional support,” says Susan. “I am one person, and we have 142 people here. So, I have my list, and I know that the people are checking on others. I know the people that have no family members and need special attention. I know the people who are sick and who have mobility problems, and I hook them all up with services that will help them.”
John is grateful for Susan’s continued support, and their relationship is just one example of the types of bonds that form between our residents and staff, who go above and beyond to care for residents and build legitimate friendships. “Everybody loves Susie,” says John. “If you have a problem, you go to her… and I consider Susie a great friend.”
For the last 5 years, John’s son Anthony has helped him write an autobiography and is supporting his dad in every way he can. “If I die tomorrow, I will have lived a good life because of him,” says John. “My son is the best thing that ever happened to me. Be good to your kids. Life would mean nothing without my son.”
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