Discover why an outer East Portland farmer became one of the most respected citizens in the Parkrose area …
With granddaughter Gabrielle and son Joe, Aldo Rossi enjoys time with his family at their last Barn Bash. East PDX News file photo
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Even though the temperature was already sweltering by 10:00 a.m. on July 28, St. Rita Catholic Church in Parkrose was filled to standing-room-only – as family, friends, and community members came to honor the passing of Also Rossi.
Many considered him a “Hero of Parkrose” because of the many community efforts he spearheaded over the years.
Before the Funeral Mass concluded, three brief eulogies given by Rossi’s sons and son-in-law summarized Aldo’s life and philosophy. (The complete obituary, written by his son, Joe Rossi, follows.)
A passion for people
The first to speak was second-born son Nick Rossi. “We were always amazed when we’d go somewhere, and it seemed like everyone knew Dad. He was well known. But, we later discovered that, when we went anywhere, he’d seek out people he knew, to greet them. If he didn’t know anyone, he’d introduce himself to a stranger – and make a new friend.”
Nick recalled, when they were young, he and his siblings tried to engage their father in a board game. He demurred, saying he had never played it before. But, the kids talked him into a game of Monopoly®.
“It wasn’t long until Dad owned most of the properties, had built on them – and, then, had most of the money. We didn’t realize, until years later, that he had been practicing at this game in real life – but with real money, and real properties.”
Aldo Rossi welcomed then-Mayor Tom Potter to the family’s last annual Barn Bash – an event that raised money for one of Rossi’s lifelong passions, Parkrose sports. East PDX News file photo
Say a prayer – and keep walking
Tim Schilleriff married Rossi’s youngest child, Angela, and said how he appreciated being welcomed into the Rossi family.
The senior Rossi had learned to enjoy hunting, Schilleriff related, especially duck hunting. But, he didn’t swim. Often, the flooded fields required hunters to swim across an irrigation ditch.
“We saw him take off one day, in the direction of a ditch we knew was too deep to wade across,” recounted Schilleriff. “When we got to the ditch, all we saw was his hat, floating on the water. We feared the worst, but later we saw that Aldo was okay. When we asked him how he got across the ditch, he said, ‘When the water got so deep that it covered my head, I said a prayer – and just kept walking.’ That was his nature.”
Aldo Rossi, shown working his fields in his younger years. Photo courtesy of the Rossi family
Behind his passion for sports and work
Aldo’s eldest son, Joe, said he wanted to clarify two potential misconceptions about his father.
“It’s true, one of Dad’s passions was for sports,” Joe began. “I don’t think he knew – or cared about – who won national football or baseball championships. But when he met an individual who’d played on one of the teams he’d coached, even years before, he’d recall their jersey number, position, and statistics. He loved to play sports – and later, he loved watching the kids play football and baseball.”
Another perception Joe said he wished to clarify concerned Aldo’s seemingly ceaseless desire to work. “Dad did have a strong work ethic; he went ahead 100% in everything he did,” Joe said. “But what he loved was the opportunity his own dad gave him to run the family farm. He appreciated the opportunity. He worked hard to support his family, and loved doing the same for us.”
After the service, Joe told us, “To Dad, the farm represented the family. After I took over running the farm, some people seemed surprised that Dad, even though he was elderly, worked with me there. It wasn’t because he felt compelled to work, but because he loved the farm; he loved working with me.”
Aldo Rossi Obituary by Joe Rossi
Aldo Rossi was born March 1, 1920, in Parkrose, now part of Northeast Portland, to Nicola Rossi and Edith (Debenedetti) Rossi.
He attended Parkrose School, as his mother did before him, and graduated in 1938. Aldo’s fondest memories as a young boy were running to school an hour early with schoolbooks under one arm and a football under the other.
He would run into class, throw his books on his desk, and then be back outside to organize a game before school started. Aldo did this daily. It didn’t take much coaxing to have most of the boys at that small school arrive early to play. Having a football to play with during the Great Depression was rare, and Aldo owned the only one in the neighborhood.
The games were also a nice after-school diversion from the hard work most of those boys faced in that farming community.
Because Parkrose was such a small school at the time, around 30 kids per graduating class (all in one building), Aldo recruited and encouraged even the boys of lesser talent to play and feel like they belonged. The traits Aldo displayed in grade school carried with him his whole life.
He was an organizer, recruiter, coach, community leader and always very competitive and the first to arrive at everything he did. The only thing Dad would lose patience with was half effort and this rule applied to every aspect of life. Aldo grew up, worked and lived on his family’s farm his whole life. He was the third generation to take over the farm when his father died young from cancer.
He became partner with his father’s partner, (brother-in-law and lifelong friend) Jim Giusto. Later Aldo became partner with Jim’s son, Augie Giusto, a partnership that lasted 35 years.
In 1961, Aldo married Irene Luka, a girl he courted a very long time. They honeymooned in Europe, visiting Aldo’s extended family in Italy and Irene’s family in Germany. In 1963, their first child, Joe, was born followed by Nick (named after Aldo’s father) and then their youngest, Angela, named after both of Aldo’s grandmothers. It was on that family farm that Aldo and Irene also raised their children. The whole family worked together along with Augie’s family, including his wife, Virginia; their son, Dominic; and daughter, Kim.
Not through with football after high school, Aldo started and sponsored the Parkrose Merchants football team in 1939; it went on to win several city championships. When Aldo was done playing football, he formed Parkrose’s first seventh and eighth grade football teams in 1961. He played the roles of recruiter, sponsor and coach. In 1966, Aldo donated the sports equipment as Parkrose integrated his teams into their two new junior high schools.
A partial list of Aldo’s community participation and achievements include: founder and first president of Club Paesano, an Italian social club founded by Dad in 1955 to promote his Italian heritage and that of his friends; charter member of the Northeast Portland Rotary Club and an active member for over 50 years; board member and then president of the Gardeners and Ranchers Association, an organization that his grandfather helped found in 1908; president of the Portland Bowling League – Dad was an avid bowler after his football playing years; member of the local Elks Lodge, Oregon Farm Bureau and the Portland Fresh Market Growers Association.
Most of all, Dad is remembered as a kind, patient and loving father. So much so that when he came home from work and Mom told him that we kids deserved a spanking, he could never bring himself to do it. Inevitably, it would turn into a game of tag where everyone was laughing, much to Mom’s rightful dismay.
Dad lived his whole life loving his Parkrose community and the farm he grew up on and devoted his life to. He also loved the Parkrose school system, which built its high school and middle school on his family’s farm. As the Parkrose School District grew, Dad’s farm shrunk in equal proportion but he never complained.
Most of all Aldo loved sports and the opportunities it gave kids to experience the joy he felt as a young boy.
Dad is survived by his wife, Irene; who was a kind, loving and devoted spouse. He’s also survived by his three children, Joe, Nick and Angela, who to this day are best friends and all of whom contributed to Dad’s seven grandchildren, Gabrielle, Michael, Genevieve, Chance, Nick, Tyler and Graham.
Dad’s only enemy in life was Parkinson’s disease; this he fought with all his effort as he did everything else in life. In spite of all this, Dad never complained, as was his nature. Slowly, it robbed Dad of everything he loved in life, except his family, all of whom were all by his side to the end.
He stayed true to the character he displayed his whole life, from that small boy running to school with his football to being a generous contributing member of our community.
Parkinson’s finally overcame Dad and won as he passed away on Tuesday morning, July 21, 2009. He was 89 years old.
Remembrances may be made to The Parkrose Youth Activities Fund, 12809 S.E. 93rd Ave., Clackamas, OR 97015; or the charity of your choice.
© 2009 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News