Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Ralph Riccio...

Riccio dies at 81; Southington loses a pillar of the town
By Jeffery Kurz (Record-Journal staff)

Ralph J. Riccio, who with his twin brother, Vito, ran a clothing store that was a downtown staple for nearly four decades, died Wednesday at 81, after a short illness.  “We have lost a pillar in the community,” said Vic­toria Triano, a former Town Councilmember who re­called going to the shop when she was growing up. Embedded in the concrete sidewalk in front of the store, the phrase, “Did You Riccio Today?” was an en­during marketing slogan.  Riccio had been a member of the Southington Ro­tary Club since 1950. On Wednesday, the club set a rose in his place to honor him, said Triano, the club’s pres­ident.

Though Riccio did not seek public office, he was a major influence. He was a strong believer in the council-manager system of government and was in­strumental in bringing Town Manager John Weich­
sel to Southington. The two became close friends. 

“Everything he did was for Southington and the Southing­ton people,” Weichsel said.  “He was a leading light in the community,” said Carl Sokolowski, a lawyer. “He was into everything. He knew al­most everybody and every­body liked and respected him.” “I think Ralph could have been elected to anything had he desired to do so,” Sokolowski said. “He just chose to be active in the back­ground.”  For many years, Riccio vol­unteered his time at The Or­chards and Southington Care Center, where he would dance with the senior citizens. After suffering a near-fatal aneurism in 1984, Riccio was told he needed to keep busy.

“Wewere the beneficiaries of that advice,” said Trish Walden, vice president of senior services at Southington Care and The Orchards. Riccio had a way of bringing “a ray of sunshine to the seniors,” she said.  “He lived the full life, right to the very end,” said his son, Michael Riccio. Along with his wife, Ruth (England) Riccio, Riccio is survived by five chil­dren and nine grandchildren. Vito Riccio died in 1994 of a blood disease. The two had re­tired from their clothing busi­ness in 1988. Among other sig­nificant community collabora­tions, the brothers had been a driving force behind the Down­town Merchants Association and in fundraising for the prop­erty and construction of St. Dominic Church. In 1997, Ralph Ricciowas grandmarshal of the Apple Harvest Festival Parade. Born March 23, 1938, in Southington, Ralph Riccio was the son of Ralph A. and Rose Riccio, who had come to Southington from Amorosi, a province of Naples in Italy.

Michael Riccio said he and his father had traveled several times to the town in Italy the past few years, for reunions with family. Ralph Riccio spoke fluent Italian.  “He didn’t speak a word of English when he went to kindergarten,” said Michael Riccio. 
After graduating from Lewis High School, in 1946, the broth­ers served in the Army in Ko­rea for two years in what was considered World War II serv­ice. They’d insisted on serving together, said Michael Riccio. Returning to Southington, they attended school in New Haven, before establishing their clothing business at 79 Center St. in 1950. They were 21 years old at the time.  Vito Riccio took an outside job to help support the fledg­ling business, while Ralph Ric­cio ran the store.  The two did everything to­gether and they never argued. As children, they’d decided that if there was a disagree­ment it would be settled by a coin toss.  “That’s how they ran the business,” Michael Riccio said. At the onset, the business catered to men, but over the years it expanded to women and children. They even had a clothing line for priests, said Michael Riccio.

Expanding business com­pelled the Riccios to move in 1967 to larger space at 37 N. Main St. There they remained until 1988. Along with “Did You Riccio Today?” was the
slogan “See the twins for dou­ble values.”  It was, as Sokolowski re­called, much more than a clothing store. The downtown location, and the personality of the owners, helpedmake it a community center.  “That was the place to go to find out what was going on in town,” said Sokolowski. “Ralph always found time to chat.”

Riccio’s aneurismhelped lead to the decision to retire the business, the burden of which had fallen to his brother. Michael Riccio was a junior in high school when the aneurism afflicted his father and said “it was like I had two fathers.” Gone was the aggressiveness that helped make Riccio a com­petitive businessman. He also struggled with short-term memory.  However, “he never lost his love for life,” said Michael Ric­cio. “He just loved people. Southington was his gem.”  Riccio also never lost an­other asset of note, his sense of humor.  “He loved to tell jokes,” said his son, “right to the very end.”

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