March 24 ē 11:32 AM

Coscarelli leaves legacy of tolerance, love

August 01, 2007
IMLAY CITY — A truck driver, a wallet and a snowy winter's day set a lifelong pattern for Gene Coscarelli.

Coscarelli, who died on Saturday at the age of 83, was just 6-years-old when he watched a fuel truck driver exit his truck at the Standard Station in Imlay City.

He saw the driver's wallet fall from the truck and land in a snow bank. The youngster retrieved the wallet, took it into the station and handed it over to its rightful owner.

That act of honesty and the good feeling it gave him stayed with Coscarelli throughout his whole life—so much so that he remembered the truck driver's name—Levi Spencer—some seven decades later. In April of 2000, Coscarelli remarked about the early life lesson he learned when he received the Edgar A. Guest Award from the Attica-Imlay Masons.

He carried that honesty, integrity and compassion for his family and fellow man in all the years that followed.

"There is no replacement for Gene Coscarelli," longtime friend Marty Rankin says.

Rankin, Imlay City's Mayor Pro-Tem, remembers the old days when Gene operated Coscarelli's Party Store, near Marty's parent's bakery on Third Street downtown. Marty remembers listening to Gene's stories about his dad and how the store came to be.

"When I was a kid and he had the party store in town everybody knew Gene. That was back when people still referred to it as Sam's because of his dad," Rankin says.

"Gene always treated everyone the same, no matter what walk of life they came from," he continues.

"Whether it was the guy with the broken English buying his cigarettes or someone who was 'important,' he talked to everyone the same."

That's because Coscarelli learned tolerance and acceptance at an early age.

His dad, Serafino 'Sam' Coscarelli came to the United States when he was just 19 years old. He found his way to Elkhart, Indiana where he secured a job with the railroad working in the roundhouse.

In 1910 he went back to Italy and took a bride, Vincenza Bonafiglio. Two years later Sam returned to the U.S. alone, hoping to make enough money to send for his new wife.

In 1912, Sam came to Imlay City and starting selling fruit and vegetables from a push cart. Later, he was able to rent a wood frame building across the street from the former Kempf's shoe store. He sent for Vincenza in 1914.

Sam learned how to make change and speak English from Mr. Kempf and Harold Muir—who brought him a radio to listen to so he could improve his English. Eventually Sam purchased a building on Third Street that would for years be known as Coscarelli's Party Store.

Gene was born in 1924, the youngest of four children.

He graduated from Imlay City High School in 1942 and enlisted in the Navy a year later. After serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II, Coscarelli earned numerous citations and medals and mustered out of the Navy in 1946 as a Quartermaster 1st Class.

He returned to Imlay City and worked with his dad at the store. Coscarelli met the love of his life, Marian Barclay, whom he married in 1947. The couple had five children—Cathy, Louise, Paul, Nancy and Gail.

Coscarelli operated the party store until 1977 and then pursued a career in the banking industry. He was president and a member of the board of directors of Imlay City State Bank, Security Bank of Imlay City and Security Bank Northeast.

Throughout all the years, Coscarelli was an active member of the community, most notably his 56 years of perfect attendance with the Imlay City Rotary Club.

He was named Imlay City Citizen of the Year in 1982 and received the Edgar A. Guest award in 2000. In the mid-1990s, Coscarelli embarked on a Rotary medical mission trip to the Philippines and worked with physicians and nurses to restore sight to more than 150 people. Throughout it all, Coscarelli remained humbly grateful.

"The courage and determination that my parents exhibited by leaving all that was near and dear to them and striking out to a country whose culture was different and even sometimes hostile was truly remarkable," Coscarelli said in an April, 2000 interview. "It was fortunate that Sam settled in Imlay City because this community was one in which tolerance and understanding prevailed. I thank God that he had the courage to do what he did."

While Coscarelli never forgot the power of tolerance and understanding, many say his most remarkable trait was the depth and level of his commitment and love for his wife.

"I'll always remember how much he loved my mom," Nancy says. "He cared amazingly little about material possessions unless they made someone he loved happy. His prized possessions were his friends."

Coscarelli's capacity for love is also what daughter Gail treasures most.

"He had the incredible ability to love and accept anybody with great hospitality and make you feel like you're the most important person in the world," Gail says. "We children are extraordinarily blessed to have been given a father and a mother such as we had."

Gail demonstrated her gratitude, Nancy says, in the last years of their parent's lives.

"Gail can never be thanked enough for all she did over the last several years for our mom and dad," Nancy says. "With her selfless attention and care during their last years the rest of the family knew that their needs were being met in the best possible way. I want Dad's family and friends to know that."

To Coscarelli's friends, that sense of family is evident in the generations that follow him.

"Gene had a large family and a lot of the values that he and Marian had were instilled in the kids," Rankin says. "They're all very good people, a hard working bunch."

Longtime friend John Lengemann, an Imlay City attorney and commissioner, says it's difficult to characterize a man like Coscarelli in just a few sentences, especially since he's known him ever since he was a little boy.

"Gene truly lived the Rotary motto of service above self," Lengemann says.

Along with his children, Coscarelli leaves behind 13 grandchildren and 17 great-grandchildren.

Funeral services were held on Tuesday at St. Cornelius Catholic Church in Dryden, and Coscarelli was laid to rest at the Imlay Township Cemetery.

For a complete obituary, see page 2-B. For more on the life of Gene Coscarelli, see 'Our Opinion' on page 4-B.

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