For me, it means I get to tell a story about a family from Torrington that has turned a personal tragedy into a movement, a cause with hopes of helping others in need, as they were helped when they needed it most.
I speak of the Graziano Family.
I had my first encounter with the family when I met an energetic, highly positive young man named Francesco two years ago while covering the Torrington Titans Collegiate Baseball team at Fuessenich Park.
Frankie, as most call him, served as a super-volunteer for the Titans former owners, Our Baseball Haven.
He would do the post-game on field interviews with the coaches and players, all while dressed in a shirt, tie and jacket, regardless of the sometimes ridiculous summertime temperatures.
Graziano would never flinch and always told me, “I only do things professionally.”
Indeed he did.
During the winter months, I would run into Graziano in a local high school gym while he was doing an internship with WSFB-Channel 3 in Hartford.
Still, dressed to impress, Graziano always made an impression on those he met.
It was not until recently that I discovered why Graziano tried as hard as any young man I had ever met in the area.
He did it for his older brother, Vincenzo, who had left this earth far too early at 27-years of age after losing a battle with Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
That disease is near and not so dear to my memory. I have a good friend who suffered from it and for whom we have a Golf Tournament for each year.
The difference is, my friend survived this beast, the Graziano Family was not so fortunate.
It is though, what they did after the tragedy that set them apart. Frankie and his cousin, Teresa Canino in particular.
To understand how this story unfolded, we have to go back a bit, back to when Vinnie was the rock-star older brother who Frankie (12 years his junior) desperately wanted to imitate.
The younger Graziano often referred to his older brother as “The Man”.
While he felt it was sometimes an overused expression, he never found another one that fit s brother any better.
“I used to say he was a volatile fire starter.” Graziano said. “He could get you all worked up and upset about something but make you laugh at the same time.”
Vinnie Graziano went to school at Oliver Wolcott Tech where he studied graphic design while working at the local Burger King and the Litchfield Woods.
Always an upbeat and positive soul, Vinnie earned his worked hard after high school to first earn an Associate in Science degree for Business Administration at Northwest Connecticut Community College before transferring to Uconn where he earned his Bachelor’s degree.
A career was started at Cigna and life was good and busy.
Frankie Graziano wanted nothing more out of life but to hang out with his older brother and his older brother delivered.
“He took me to see my first New York Knick’s game.” Graziano said. “We saw the 2000 New York Met’s play during the season that they made it to the World Series. There was nothing better than hanging out with my brother.”
Keeping his younger brother out of trouble was also something Vinnie Graziano took pride in doing.
“If heard I was misbehaving, he would be all over me.” Frankie said. “He’d take me home from a family function and make me stay there and think about what I had done.”
A mutual dislike of the New York Yankees led to their both liking the Met’s and both were happy when the Boston Red Sox took the title, at least it wasn’t the team from the Bronx.
Vinnie Garziano was also an avid concert fan, never missing an Ozzie Osborne show when they were around or Lollapalooza event.
In the fall of 2004, the family started to notice something that seemed a bit off for Vincenzo: a very loud and painful sounding cough.
A non-smoker, Vinnie Graziano just got on with his life and the family got used to the cough.
Things changed that Thanksgiving when a simple trip to get a Pumpkin Pie turned into a visit to the hospital.
After a diagnosis of post nasal drip and some meds, Graziano tried to get things back to normal but normal had changed.
It started to become more and more apparent to the family that something was seriously wrong with Vinnie.
“He must have lost about 30-40 pounds.” Frankie Graziano said. “It didn’t really sink in until it was too late.”
In early February of 2005, the diagnosis came back with the worst possible scenario.
It was Non Hodgkin’s Lymphoma and it had attacked hard.
Vincenzo Graziano, beloved son and brother, was gone in five days.
A devastating loss to a close knit, religious family that struggled to understand why someone in the prime of their life would be so suddenly struck down.
How people react when faced with such a loss says much about their character and Graziano and Canino reacted in a way that spoke volumes about how strong their resolve was.
Canino, a senior at Torrington High School, has been involved with the St Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital Telethon since she was four or five years old and used to sing during the Torrington event.
On the five year anniversary of her cousins passing, Canino (a black belt in karate) organized a dinner/dance that raised over 00.00 for St Jude and continues that effort today.
On Friday, November 18, Canino held a dinner/dance at the Elks Lodge in Torrington and it was as well received as it always is.
“We are a very tight knit family.” Graziano said. “My cousin Teresa has done an amazing job of organizing events that get us all together to do something positive in my brother’s name.”
On February 28, 2010, the local Torrington telethon raised over ,000 dollars for St Jude with ,205 coming in from the Graziano family in memory of Vincenzo.
The family is not done with efforts to keep their shining star front and center in the community.
A Vincenzo Graziano Foundation is in the works along with an effort to have a local field or street renamed in his honor.
For his part, Frankie Graziano wakes up every day with the goal of doing something to make his brother proud.
“He taught to me to always dress well, look sharp from my shoes to my jeans and so forth.” Graziano said. “I try to present myself everyday in a way that would make my brother proud. He is still a great motivator for me.”
A life taken too early often leads to a profound long term reaction, sometimes negative, often positive.
In the case of one Vincenzo Graziano, his lasting legacy is one that has brought out the best in the people who loved him the most.
Through his families spirit of giving back in his memory, this Torrington native lives on and gives strength to the people who mattered to him the most.