(Randy was on a writing burst so I am including this. GV.)
By Randolph Fiery
Geneva’s father, Robert Martin Zando, on the left in the photo of the three brothers, was an Italian stonemason and builder from Falcade, Italy. I think he first came through Ellis Island in 1910.
He had built a large stone home in the Dolomites, not very far from the Austrian border. He was saving money to bring my grandmother, Caterina, and my uncles and aunt, Sixtus, Abraham and Mary to America, when World War I broke out. The Germans turned their large stone house into an officer’s home and office. My grandmother and the children lived in the attic and cooked, cleaned and were in essence servants to the German officers.
My uncle Sixtus was a teenager, and they put him in a work camp. Because of the war, my grandfather was unable to bring grandmother and the kids to America until 1920. They settled in West Virginia because there was a need for stone workers to build structures for the mining industry. My grandfather was one of the first men building the beautiful stone bridges on the Skyline Drive and Blue Ridge Parkway. He also built a building – now in the national historic register -- made of coal in Williamson, West Virginia.
My mother was the first of the family born in America and in 1940 or 1941 she was able to enter West Virginia University and receive a degree in biology.
But I have an even better story, her older brother, Sixtus was a teenager when my grandmother and the three kids arrived at Ellis Island. Sixtus had a damaged leg and the officials at Ellis island labeled him a “cripple.” They were going to let my grandmother and two of the children enter America, but they did not want to let that “cripple boy” come in.
My mom told me, that her mother and her siblings waited for days, if not weeks trying to get Sixtus allowed to enter America. She said her brother was prepared to go back to Italy and live with the family, but they somehow got the officials to finally let him in.
They moved to the coalfields of southern West Virginia because there was lots of stonework to support the coal industry.
Sixtus was a teenager with a damaged leg and they placed him in a first grade classroom to learn English.
That young “crippled boy” did OK. He ended up graduating from medical school at Loyola University in Chicago. He had the money to pay for my mom going to college.
Another side story: during my mom‘s senior year in high school, she won an academic scholarship to a small college in West Virginia. When they found out she was Catholic, they took away the scholarship. She worked for a year, and then her brother paid for her to go to school.
She was the best human I have ever known.