In some families, he helped bury five generations. He remembered how their loved ones were dressed for their funerals, where they were buried, sometimes even the weather.
When 10-year-old Larry Panozzo started helping out at his family’s funeral business, he’d cart portable kneelers and chairs into customer’s homes because that’s where wakes often were held.
After growing up in the family business, he went on to be one of the longest-serving funeral directors in Illinois.
Mr. Panozzo, a member of the second generation to operate 95-year-old Panozzo Brothers Funeral Home, died of heart trouble April 22 at his home in Flossmoor, according to his son Michael Panozzo. He was 91.
Licensed for 67 years, he had retired only in February.
Panozzo Brothers, founded in Roseland, is the sort of funeral home where it can take a long time to get through the line of people waiting to pay their respects. It’s a repository of memories for generations of families, particularly Italian Americans with ties to St. Anthony of Padua parish at 115th Street and Prairie Avenue.
Growing up there years ago, it was the kind of close-knit neighborhood where “whoever could spank you was your aunt,” Mr. Panozzo’s son Phillip Panozzo said.
Many St. Anthony parishioners trace their roots to il Altopiano dei Sette Comuni, a high plain with seven towns in the province of Vicenzo in Northeast Italy. Just by their surname, Mr. Panozzo knew which of the seven towns a client’s ancestors were from, Michael Panozzo said.
“Larry and his brother were walking file cabinets of information on Roseland and Pullman and Kensington,” said CJ Martello, who wrote a book, “Petals from Roseland,” about the community where he grew up.
In some families, Mr. Panozzo helped bury five generations — from great-grandparents to great-grandchildren. He remembered how their loved ones were dressed for their funerals and where they were buried. Sometimes, he even remembered the weather that day.
And if a family couldn’t pay right away, “People paid him $5 a week for years, no interest,” Phillip Panozzo said.
Homewood Florist owner Marty Arrivo said Mr. Panozzo and his brother Dennis Panozzo — who continues to operate the funeral home with his son Alan — “always knew what flowers were in season” and would color-coordinate them with the clothes that the deceased was dressed in for viewings.
Mr. Panozzo’s father Dionisio “Dan” Panozzo and his uncle Louis Panozzo — whose parents were from Tresché Conca in Italy — opened the funeral home in 1926. It operated for many years on 115th Street in Roseland before moving to Chicago Heights.
Young Larry went to St. Anthony of Padua grade school. As a kid, he once had a spaghetti dinner in the parish rectory with visiting New York Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio, whose success was a source of immense pride among Italian Americans. His uncle Louie picked up Joltin’ Joe at the old Edgewater Beach Hotel on the North Side because the funeral home had a limousine.
Mr. Panozzo attended Mount Carmel High School and the University of Notre Dame before serving in the Army in Trieste, Italy.
That’s where he and his wife of 68 years, the former Antoinette Rigoni, got married because it was close to Asiago, home of many of her Italian relatives. They’d known each other since he was a kid playing accordion in the basement of St. Anthony’s church.
Michael Panozzo said that, after the Army chaplain conducted the ceremony, “Netti” spent her wedding night with her mom and mother-in-law because her mother didn’t think it was proper to move in with Mr. Panozzo until they were married in church a day later.
The Panozzos lived for a year in Italy, until his military service ended. They returned to Chicago, and he enrolled at Worsham College of Mortuary Science.
He and his wife loved to play midweek card games with friends. Mr. Panozzo would enjoy a Manhattan during the week and a martini on Fridays, Phillip Panozzo said.
He loved the music of Johnny Frigo, a jazz violinist and bassist who helped compose the standard “Detour Ahead.” He hired Frigo to play at his 50th wedding anniversary celebration.
Relatives said his business ethos was “You say yes, and then you figure out how to make it happen” — like when the funeral home buried Bill Bramanti in 2018 in a casket decked out to look like a can of his favorite beer, Pabst Blue Ribbon.
In addition to his wife, brother Dennis and sons Michael and Phillip, Mr. Panozzo is survived by sons Lawrence and Dennis, daughters Danielle Clarke and Claudia Bliese, sister Catherine Van Heel and eight grandchildren.
A wake is scheduled from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Panozzo Brothers Funeral Home, 530 W. 14th St., Chicago Heights. A funeral Mass is planned for 10 a.m. Thursday at Infant Jesus of Prague Church, Flossmoor, followed by entombment at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.