Italian American of the Year believes in giving back to the community

Michael Petrucelli, 88, believes it’s important to give back to the community.

He’s given so much back that this year the Milford Columbus Committee has named him Milford’s Italian American of the Year.

He will be honored at a dinner dance Friday, Oct. 4, at Grassy Hill Country Club.

Petrucelli was born in Bridgeport on Nov. 23, 1924, the son of John and Lucia Riccio Petrucelli, both natives of Castlefranco, Province of Bennevento, Italy.

His father died at 33 from pneumonia, leaving his mother to take charge.

“Although only 5’4,” she was a towering person in strength and character,” Petrucelli said. “She supported her sons by making linens and crocheting the edges, a trade she learned in Italy. She sold them by going house to house, while pushing a carriage.”

Petrucelli graduated from Harding High School in 1942. When he was a junior, he caught pneumonia, but fortunately his doctor made house calls and decided to try a newly refined medicine — “penicillin,” Petrucelli said.

Petrucelli earned a scholarship to Junior College of Connecticut, which later became the University of Bridgeport. Patriotism called, however, and he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Cadet Program, where he trained in Miami Beach.

A hernia operation grounded him and he had to change course, transferring to radar operations at Traux Field, Madison, Wisc., and then to electronics school in Tucson, Ariz. He finished his training in McCook, Neb.

After being honorably discharged in 1946, he graduated from the University of Bridgeport in 1950 with a bachelor’s degree in business marketing research.

He said it was “love at first sight” when he met Elizabeth Gloria LaBarba, who would become his wife.

They moved to Milford when Petrucelli took a job running Milford Sport Shop, then located on River Street above Tot’s Tottery, across from City Hall.

When the landlord raised the rent on their West Main Street apartment from $75 to $100, they bought a house on Governors Avenue, where they lived for 33 years before downsizing to their current home on Bayberry Lane.

Michael managed the sport shop until 1956, when he opened his own business, Town Squire, Ltd Men’s Shop, on River Street. In 1961 he relocated to the Milford Bank and Trust Building at 22 River Street, now occupied by Milford Photo. He retired in 1988.

The couple has two grown children and five grandchildren.

Petrucelli has always believed in giving back to society. He said it’s not enough to just live your life; you have to take part in your community.

He and his wife are Eucharist ministers at St. Mary’s Church. He is co-founder and past president of the Milford Columbus Committee, past chairman of the tax review board, served on several committees and was one of the founders of the Community Chest, which later became Milford’s United Way.

He volunteers at Milford Hospital; he was active in the Republican Town Committee for many years and was a longtime member of the Chamber of Commerce.

He is treasurer of the Board of Directors of the Council on Aging, and is a past recipient of Milford’s Living Treasure Award.

“Every year the Milford Columbus Committee chooses an Italian American individual that is successful in business and involved in his community,” said committee member Buddy Prete, explaining that Petrucelli more than fit the bill.

The committee also will present special achievement awards to Rita Canas and Patricia Cucuzza from the Milford Hospital Auxiliary and a special recognition to Jim Wilson from Milford Photo.

The Milford Columbus Committee was formed in 1991 by Petrucelli and Sam Bergami Jr. to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the New World.

The group raises funds to provide scholarships to students in need of assistance.

The Oct. 4 dinner dance will be from 6:30 to 11 p.m. There will be an open bar, dancing, surf n’ turf, black tie optional. Music will be by Eight to the Bar. For tickets, $100, call Jim Birarelli at 203-877-8980.