Vintage Chelsea:Well-Known Businessman Mario Zullo Dies at the Age of 90

By Cary Shuman

Lifelong Chelsea resident Mario Zullo (right) greets his friend, world heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, at a Boston restaurant.

Lifelong Chelsea resident Mario Zullo (right) greets his friend, world heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano, at a Boston restaurant.

Family and friends are remembering Mario Zullo, a member of one of Chelsea’s most prominent families, as a respected business owner and a larger-than-life figure for decades who knew people from all walks of life and every corner of Chelsea.

Mr. Zullo, who had nine brothers and two sisters,  died on Sept. 30, 2016 surrounded by his loving family. He was 90 years. He was the son of Christopher and Angelina Zullo.

There was a touch of irony that Mario died on the week the Jewish New Year was being observed. Growing up on Maverick Street in a city with thousands of Jewish residents, Mario had many Jewish friends who shared his love of life, knew his close-knit family well, and enjoyed the sport of boxing as much as he did.

Mario became the Chelsea connection to Rocky Marciano, the Brockton Bomber who became the heavyweight champion of the world and retired with an undefeated record. Mario served as Rocky’s publicist and confidante and the champion’s visits to Chelsea were frequent. It was Mario who brought the then-world champ Marciano to Chelsea for the Columbus Day Parade in which he and the champ occupied a convertible with then-Mayor Andrew P. Quigley.

Former heavyweight champion John Ruiz, the first Latino to win the title, also came to value Mario’s career advice and guidance.

Mario’s personality and street-smart eloquence – sometimes using Yiddish expressions – were infectious. His cleaning store, Park Cleaners, was a place to receive not only great service from Mario and his beloved wife, Elena, but to receive advice and discuss the issues of the day.

Daughter Judi Festa and her husband, William “Chuck,” and daughter Diane Zullo are proud members of the family living in Peabody. Mario’s sister, Barbara Libby, a well-known volunteer at the Chelsea Senior Center, is the lone surviving sibling.

Mario’s nieces and nephews, Angela Zullo, Michael Zullo, Richard Zullo, and twins Paul Zullo and Lisa Zullo, the children of former amateur boxing champion Michael “Mickey” Zullo and Jeanette (Fantasia) Zullo, were among the local carriers of the family’s charm, charisma, and mystique. The Zullos were generous, personable, and kind, and like their uncle and parents, the Zullo children’s warmth was genuine and welcoming to people in all communities.

 Mr. Zullo had three grandchildren, Alana Rikeman, Giana Festa, and Joseph Breda.

He attended Chelsea High School and entered the U.S. Navy. He started a dry cleaning business handling the needs of the nearby Chelsea Naval Yard. He was in the dry cleaning business for decades, opening his first store in Chelsea. His store was at the corner of Park Street and Everett Avenue, just a few doors down from Kirshon Paint.

 The love of his life was Elena (Cianfrocca) Zullo, who died in 2014.

“It was love at first sight,” said Judi. “They had their wedding reception at Revere City Hall. They were always together.”

Mario struck up a friendship with Rocky Marciano, who knocked out 90 percent of his opponents and held the championship from 1952 to 1956. A world-renowned figure, Rocky chose to spend a lot of his time away from the ring with Mario, whom he trusted and considered a real friend.

“Mario went to every one of his fights,” said Judi. “Rocky would train at Grossinger’s in New York and he wanted Mario to be around him.”

Part of the strong connection with Rocky was attributed to Mario’s comfortableness with people of all backgrounds.

“Mario was comfortable with people no matter what their status or caliber was,” said Judi. “When he met somebody, they wanted to be around him. The Jewish people loved him. They invited him to the synagogue and to celebrate the holidays.”

One time on a family trip to Las Vegas, Mario took a seat next to two multi-millionaires – one a businessman and the other a movie producer.

“By the time the show started, Mario had them eating out of his hand,” said his daughter. “I cannot even tell you how people just gravitated to him.”

Judi said she and her sister inherited their father’s outgoing personality and ability to connect with people. Mario was the center of attention at family gatherings, she related.

 Judi said Park Cleaners became Mario’s platform, working alongside his beloved wife.

“He solved everyone’s problems at the store,” said Judi. “He made friends with everybody and knew how to make people feel important. John Ruiz became one of his buddies. Whenever you went in to the store, Mario and his wife were together. They were great dancers, too.”

Mario loved Chelsea with all his heart. “He and Andrew Quigley had a great relationship. They were very close,” said Judi. “There was a great photo in the Chelsea Record of Mario, Andrew, and Rocky riding down Broadway in a controvertible during the Columbus Day Parade.”

Mario was healthy through his later years but following a bout with pneumonia, he became a resident of a nursing home in Peabody.

“Mario’s care at the nursing home was awesome,” said Judi. “He was like the mayor of the nursing home. He would go around meeting people. I used to bring him cookies and my sister would bring him things.

“The other residents would tell me, ‘we love your father, he always has those cookies.”

From his early days on Maverick Street to the final days of a wonderful life, Mario was always giving to others and making people feel good about themselves.

That’s the Mario Zullo that Chelsea will never forget.

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Famous at Floramo’s


Chelsea’s reality show star, Velvet Smith, greets diners at Floramo’s, Michael Breau (left), the younger brother of former Chelsea High sports great Bobby Breau and brother-in-law of Assistant Superintendent of Chelsea Schools Linda Breau, and Ginny Grayson (right). Velvet appears on the show with her daughter, Ashley Alexiss, a professional model
and spokesperson.

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MVP, MVP, MVP! Mia Nowicki Unanimous as CCL’s Top Player

MVP, MVP, MVP! Mia Nowicki Unanimous as CCL’s Top Player

The coaches in the Catholic Central League affirmed what high school softball fans have known for a long time: Mia Nowicki can pitch with the best of them.

Nowicki, a 15-year-old sophomore flame throwing righthander for the St. Mary’s High School softball team, was the unanimous choice as the CCL Most Valuable Player following a regular season in which she averaged 12 strikeouts a game and led the Spartans to a 16-4 record.

And Nowicki is not done yet with her exploits on the mound this season. The daughter of former Matignon All-Scholastic athlete Paul Nowicki and Chelsea High softball star Tracy Constantino Nowicki was at Martin Field in Lowell Wednesday night hoping to advance St. Mary’s a step closer to the state championship game.

A state title would be the family’s third. Her father – arguably one of the greatest athletes in Chelsea city history – won one crown as a hockey player for the Matignon Warriors and teammate of future Bruin Shawn McEachern. Mia was a freshman on the 2014 state champion St. Mary’s girls basketball team.

And it’s the team that counts most for Mia. Even after striking out the side in Monday’s 4-1 win over Latin Academy and recording the save, Mia was talking up her teammates.

“I think [starting pitcher] Michaela [Hamill] and the team had a great performance and came up big,” said Nowicki. “We got this win and now we’re going to Lowell.”

Asked about her three-up-three down gem, Mia replied, “I just wanted to get my team out of the jam and win the game for the team and the coaches.”

Nowicki added to an already awesome repertoire of pitches with some new installations this season. “My two-seam fastball and my screwball have been working really well this year. I have a rise ball that I developed that works well on some days and a drop pitch.”

Nowicki said she is honored to be the league’s Most Valuable Player, an award her father received during his career in the CCL. “I am honored but I couldn’t have done it without my coaches and my teammates. My softball catcher has been awesome. She has a great attitude. And coach [Colleen] Newbury is an awesome coach who makes great decisions. She’s the best.”

Newbury, a softball legend in her own right who holds seven state titles including four as a player at Bishop Fenwick, used one word to describe Mia’s performance this season: dominating.

“She goes out there and makes a lot of plays to help herself,” said Newbury. “She gets a strikeout when she needs it in a big spot. She was clutch and very poised [versus Latin Academy]. She’s an athlete. She competes. I think she ranks up there with some of the great pitchers that I played with at Fenwick.”

Paul Nowicki said it’s been enjoyable for him and his wife, Tracy, director of the Chelsea Senior Center, to watch their daughter become one of the best pitchers in Massachusetts at a school she loves.

“It’s been a fun experience to be a part of – watching Mia grow and mature as a young lady as well as a softball player,” said Paul Nowicki. “She gets a lot of good support from the coaching staff and her teammates. They’re absolutely spectacular. It’s fun to come watch these games and watch her compete.”

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Girl Scout Parade,Memorial Day Ceremonies Step Off Mon. Morning

Girl Scout Parade,Memorial Day Ceremonies Step Off Mon. Morning

The annual Chelsea Girl Scout Parade and Memorial Day Exercises will take place in that order for the fourth straight year, with even more scouts and organizations expected to march in the parade – which is meant to honor veterans and enhance the official exercises at City Hall.

The parade will began around 8:15 a.m. and start at Welch’s Funeral Home parking lot.

The route will proceed down to City Hall, where the official exercises will kick off at the war memorials.

The Chelsea Girl Scouts have grown exponentially over the last few years, and have become a strong supporter of Memorial Day. Acting with local veterans groups, they have been organizing the parade on their own for many months.

“It bears reiterating that none of it would have been possible without the support from our community: The Chelsea Community Fund grant has gone a long way to helping us expose our Girls to the arts,” said Susana Carella of the busy year the troops have had. “TND was instrumental in allowing us to host our first Mother-Daughter Paint Club event on Mother’s Day weekend. We’ve been fortunate to receive generous donations from Zonta Club, Tito’s Bakery and numerous individuals who have contributed supplies and time to our events. Add to that the tireless dedication of the volunteers who donate time, and often money, to leading their troops and it all adds up to an unparalleled community effort. The Girl Scouts Chelsea Memorial Day Parade is the perfect time to unite all those organizations that work in unison to create the sense of community that distinguishes Chelsea from so many other cities. It is our sincere hope that as many of those organizations as possible will come out and march with us.”

Longtime Girl Scout organizer Elaine Cusick said this year will be particularly special as the Scouts will officially welcome the new veterans at the North Bellingham Veterans Home adjacent to City Hall.

“The Girl Scouts are looking forward to hosting another Memorial Day parade,” said Cusick. “It’s especially moving considering that the newly opened veterans’ residential center – the one located in the old American Legion Hall – will have front row seats to the event. It’s a nice welcome to the community for them. Also, for quite some time, Donnie Kingsbury from the Veteran’s Council has helped the girls practice their marching and formation skills.”

The official exercises will begin shortly after the parade contingent arrives at City Hall.

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Kid for A Cause:Kelly School Student Jane Rust Brings Awareness to Diabetes

Kid for A Cause:Kelly School Student Jane Rust Brings Awareness to Diabetes

Jane Rust

Jane Rust

Kelly School second grader Jane Rust wanted to bring awareness to diabetes and raise funds for Joslin Diabetes Pediatrics while involving her classmates in the project.

After receiving permission from Kelley principal, Dr. Timothy Howard, the 8-year-old started planning for a school project in which her classmates could wear blue instead of the traditional Kelly School uniform.

“I told my classmates that they could wear blue as long as they donated one dollar – and we did it at my brother Lucas’s school, too,” said Jane, who has Type 1 Diabetes.

Jane’s one-day fundraiser was a huge success. Last Friday Jane and her mother, Nanda, traveled to the Joslin Diabetes Center where they presented a check to officials for more than $700.

The mother-daughter duo did an excellent job of recruiting for the fundraiser, making a presentation in front of two classes of students.

“A lot of the students came to my classroom and I set up a table and put all my stuff on it and I showed them how it works,” said Jane. “We have a game where each student stands up and says something about themselves. And then they said, ‘Stand up if you’re diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes’ and I stood up.

“The point was that everyone is different,” Jane explained.

Jane said she was grateful to her classmates for supporting the fundraiser. She showed her appreciation to them by giving away blue trinkets such as pencils and erasers. Jane’s big message to her classmates was, “Whenever you see or use this blue item, we want you to remember that everybody’s different but life is beautiful because of those differences and you’ll remember what you learned today about diabetes and to be nice to one another.”

Nanda Rust expressed her gratitude to the school administration for jumping on board and supporting her daughter’s fundraising endeavor.

“When we approached the school about it, I was apprehensive because it’s an entire school and there are 500 children. I asked Dr. Howard if he would consider allowing the children to wear blue instead of the uniform, and he said ‘I sure would.’ “He was wonderful.”

Jane has been recognized for her efforts at the Kelley School as a recipient of the monthly Gritty Award for showing teamwork, responsibility, integrity, and honesty. She also received the award during the last school year.

Jane said she enjoys each day at the Kelley School and “I like the principal very much.”

Nanda Rust added that Jane’s whole campaign reaffirmed her respect and admiration for Chelsea people and their welcoming spirit.

“We feel fortunate to live in the community that we do,” said Nanda. “We’re surrounded by love from the school, our friends, and our community. We’re very lucky and very happy to be residents of Chelsea.”

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Snow and More Snow

Snow and More Snow

C1Pastor Avelar shoveled the sidewalk with his daughter, Elizabeth, (phot right) on Sunday morning after the Blizzard – two of the many residents who, once again, took to their sidewalks and driveways to shovel away the snow. Meanwhile, several businesses had to make the tough decision to open or close. Above, John Mandracchia said that The Newbridge Cafe would be open for business as usual on Sunday – blizzard or no blizzard. National Weather Service unofficial measurements had Chelsea with 18.1 inches.

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Immigration Ruling a Story of Joy and Despair

Immigration Ruling a Story of Joy and Despair

At the Chelsea Collaborative, Director Gladys Vega (front) said they are seeing joy and pain when it comes to President Barack Obama's Nov. 20 executive order on immigration. While Laura Galeano (back) qualified under the order, Patricia Clara (center) did not qualify. Vega said they applaud the order, but are calling for greater reforms.

At the Chelsea Collaborative, Director Gladys Vega (front) said they are seeing joy and pain when it comes to President Barack Obama’s Nov. 20 executive order on immigration. While Laura Galeano (back) qualified under the order, Patricia Clara (center) did not qualify. Vega said they applaud the order, but are calling for greater reforms.

As Laura Galeano and her family watched CNN on Nov. 20 for the announcement by President Barack Obama of a controversial executive order that would seemingly clear the path and protect about 4.5 million illegal immigrants from deportation, a tear streamed down the 37-year-old Galeano’s face.

Her daughter, who was born in the United States and attends Chelsea schools, was puzzled at the emotion.

Why would her mother cry about something that didn’t affect her directly?

Then the young lady looked at her father and her brother – who were also crying.

“My daughter said, ‘You’re all undocumented?'” recalled Galeano. “She said, ‘Mom, I can’t believe it. I never knew all of you were undocumented.’ It was the first time in her life that she knew her mother, father and brother had been hiding in the shadows all this time. I had to tell her we were undocumented. She never knew until that night. My son knew, but she never knew that we were all undocumented except her. I never wanted to tell her; I didn’t want her to worry about it or think about it.

“Imagine, I have a blended family with citizenship and that’s hard,” she continued. “My daughter is a citizen and has all the rights and privileges of a citizen. My son is completely undocumented and has access to nothing. He couldn’t participate in the summer work programs, and college has been on our minds. It was devastating to him…My only hope was that my daughter would get older and would remember her brother and be good to him due to her opportunities. It was just such a happy night to know we didn’t have to worry about that anymore.”


The announcement two weeks ago, as controversial as it was, was heart-rendering for those who are here illegally and have existed without status for some time. For all of those who, like Galeano, were overjoyed by the announcement, so many others were heartbroken because they seemingly didn’t fit into the circle of protection. Many who recently came as unaccompanied minors do not qualify and those who have been here for years, but don’t have children, also don’t qualify.

Chelsea Collaborative Director Gladys Vega said it truly was bitter and sweet at the same time. She said about 30 people gathered at Tito’s Bakery to watch the announcement together, and it was quite apparent that there were two stories unfolding with the announcement.

“I watched a man and woman at the viewing party who are married and were holding hands,” said Vega. “The woman was so overjoyed because she had a child from a previous marriage and she qualified under the order. However, her husband had no children and it didn’t seem like he qualified. They were happy and they were heartbroken at the same time. What will happen to him? We see so many of those situations.”

While a lot of the initial excitement has died down and other news items have cropped up on the front pages instead, Vega said they are just now getting down to the nitty gritty of what the order means. So much of it, she said, is still unknown and she said there is a clear need for more meaningful reform.

“Now we wait, just like deferred action two years ago,” she said. ” We waited about 60 days for that and when the specifics came down we had meetings here and processed all the papers. The next step for many people is to gather up papers that show they’ve been here five years and have children who are citizens. Documents are important and people need to save all their documents. A lot of people we know are doing just that right now.”

She said more needs to be done though in Washington, D.C.

“Having the executive order is great, but it’s just the beginning of what we ought to be doing to address all the people who the U.S. has not been able to deal with for so long,” she said. “For me, it’s very, very important that when it comes to immigration, we need to deal with and legalize everyone that is here.”


Part of the reason the seemingly joyous occasion is a mixed bag is that of the millions who are here illegally, only a portion seem to fit into the most recent circle of protection. Two years ago, some 2 million young people brought as children were protected by deferred action. It is estimated that the recent order will protect 4.5 million. That leaves more than, perhaps, 10 million still in the lurch.

One of those is Chelsea resident Patricia Clara – who has been active in Chelsea for several years after overstaying her visa from Italy in 2003. A difficult family situation and her decision to come out as a lesbian have complicated her quest for legality. Once a nun serving God in Italy, Clara is childless and finds herself outside the lines of the Nov. 20 announcement.

“As I was reading about it on Nov. 20 and not being able to identify myself in the executive order or whether I fit into that hole, I just said, ‘I don’t care anymore,'” she said. “It was frustrating. I just decided there was really nothing for me to do except check my papers with my sister again.”

Clara grew up in El Salvador during the Civil War years and witnessed the murder of a family member while playing on a playground. With her life in danger, she fled to Guatemala – hiding under watermelons as she was smuggled on a fruit cart over the border to an uncle.

She would really never see her parents again.

In Guatemala, she spent most of her time in the church and began a route to serving God as a nun. Eventually she was transferred to a convent in Italy and became a nun there for eight years. However, around 2001 she said she began to have doubts, and made the decision to come out as a lesbian. The convent gave her time to think about it, and she got visas to travel to the Boston area several times over a two-year period.

In 2003, she made a final decision to leave her service in Italy and overstay her visa. She was also in the middle of applying for citizenship through her sister, who lived in Chelsea.

However, Clara said her personal declarations got in the way of that, and it left her without status due to no longer being protected by the church and what she believes are reservations by her sister. Now, she would face deportation back to a country – El Salvador – that she hasn’t seen since she was a young child.

“It was very hard for me because I left the work I was doing; I left my service to God,” she said. “It was very hard for my sister to accept that I had left my service. I don’t know what became of my documentation. My sister was helping me and things were going well until I came out as a lesbian. I don’t think my sister liked that and she wanted me to be a nun and didn’t accept it. We did everything right and I paid the fees. We have a letter and it said they received my papers. I had appointments. I just don’t know what happened, and I’m still in the dark. This didn’t help me, but I’m just not afraid anymore.”


As tough as many found it who were left out, those like Galeano had an unbelievable weight lifted.

Galeano, her husband and her son, who was 1, came to Chelsea 13 years ago on a visa from Uruguay. When their visa expired, they stayed.

For a long time, they weren’t working because they were scared. However, Galeano eventually began working at a cafe and gradually was less fearful of going to work.

But the fear and guilt of being here illegally was the guiding light in almost everything has happened in her and her husband’s life since coming to Chelsea. Even in pregnancy – when she had her daughter – the status issue turned the happy time into a horrible experience.

“My pregnancy was not happy at all,” she said. “It was happy to know I had a life in me, but unhappy because I had no idea what would happen to that baby when I had to face the truth and tell people I was undocumented. We kept that a secret. We were afraid they would put my baby up for adoption when they learned I didn’t have my papers. That was such a big fear for us.”

The fear was unfounded, naturally, but the sense of not knowing the consequences at every major step in life was something that Galeano has had to live with.

A summer job for her son became a heartbreaking time.

Getting a job for herself required a lot of explaining.

Taking the kids to the park was risky.

Enrolling kids in school and even calling the police when a crime had occurred; all were routine things that were part of the great unknown for Galeano. Every mundane action, she said, was a potential opportunity to be deported back to Uruguay.

It’s why the Nov. 20 announcement was so powerful for her.

“I feel happy and I feel free,” she said. “I feel like I can let my son go out and I can go out and be safe from authorities that are safeguarding the community. My biggest fear was calling the police if I had a problem with my neighbor or I saw something suspicious. I wanted to call so many times, but I didn’t know what would happen to me.”

For Galeano, 9-1-1 is not so scary any longer, and the fear around every corner has subsided – even if just temporarily.

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