Vira greets us at the door in a pretty emerald green jacket; she is cheerful, sharp as a tack, and a great conversationalist. The first thing that we notice about Vira’s house is the veritable library that she has assembled in her living room, every wall lined with colorful books. She and her late husband, Tony, shared a penchant for reading literature, and Vira considers it to be an excellent source of entertainment and companionship. However, the characters in her own story are just as brilliant as those on the pages of her books.
Elvira Longo Ginocchi, or more affectionately known as Vira, was born in Arnold, Pennsylvania, to Francesco Longo and Angela Sensi Longo in 1930. Her mother’s family came from Terni in Umbria, Italy. Vira’s father came from a family of farmers in Calabria, but with his mother’s blessing, he made the journey to America at age seventeen in 1921 to pursue other ambitions.
Francesco settled in Arnold, Pennsylvania, a small Italian community along the Allegheny River; he found work at the mill, and during a bout with measles, met Angela Sensi who helped to nurse him back to health. The couple married and had three girls, Vira being the youngest. While working at the mill, Francesco apprenticed himself to a butcher, learning the trade well enough to open up his first grocery store and butcher shop, “Longo’s Market,” in 1929 on Drey Street in Arnold.
Vira describes her childhood as being a happy one despite a period of health challenges for her mother. She recalls her father, an artist at heart, making sculptures of the Sphinx and of the Pyramids from the clay soil in their backyard. He also exercised his creativity and resourcefulness when his wife was not allowed to use the stairs after returning from the hospital. Francesco designed a house that would be built on a slope thereby allowing every floor to exit on ground level. This new building was to be their residence and double as the new location for the grocery store.
“Longo’s New Market” was opened in 1939.
The family’s activities revolved around the grocery store, and Vira helped her father run the store after her high school graduation in 1948. She explained, “I enjoyed that; I’ve always been a people person.”
Vira vouches that her father was a good and reliable butcher who would prepare quality meat products, including broad breasted turkeys for Thanksgiving and baby lambs in the springtime for the Italians. She remembers making fresh sausages with her father, and enjoying the daily interactions with the customers.
WWII presented its difficulties for the Longo family, and they did their best to boost the morale of the service men and their families. Many of the neighborhood boys who worked at their store went off to the war, and Vira recalls their distraught mothers buying goods to send overseas.
Vira’s father helped to prepare these care packages, including preserving and sending salamis and other meats to the South Pacific. Vira would write the letters accompanying these packages. One handsome soldier and previous employee, George Lesely, died at Pearl Harbor.
To this day, Vira keeps his Christmas card that arrived posthumously to her home.
The church has always played an important role in Vira’s life, and her church, Mt. St. Peter, sits on top of a prominent hill in New Kensington with a stunning gold-coffered ceiling and marble floor and interior; Vira has memories of the corner stone being placed.
This church was built by the hands of Italian immigrants using their ingenuity and craftsmanship to reclaim materials from a Mellon mansion in Pittsburgh; the church was dedicated in 1944. In fact, Vira is the resident expert on the history and inventory of the church and to this day gives tours.
It was in this church that she first learned about her future husband, Tony Ginocchi.
One day, as she was in the office of the young parish priest, Father Ginocchi, she spotted a photograph of a soldier in his office. Upon her inquiry, she learned that it was his brother, Tony, who had fought overseas and saw extensive action in Europe. Tony was from New Castle, PA, the son of Italian immigrants from Campania, Italy. Soon after, the two met at a church dance, and Tony brought her a white orchid.
After a period of courting, it was this same flower to which Tony fastened her engagement ring, proposing to Vira before church one day. The couple married in 1953, and her father, Francesco, designed their “forever” home. Vira and Tony subsequently started their family with three children.
Vira and Tony were very devout and involved church members, especially with Tony’s brother having been a well-respected parish priest. Vira was a member of the St. Anthony Guild, where she and her sister prepared meals for the many church celebrations.
After working for a time at Alcoa, Vira’s husband, Tony, was hired by the Burrell School District in 1958 where he worked for almost forty years. Among his different positions, he was a teacher and principal of two elementary schools. He shared his passion for literature and knowledge with his students.
In fact, this love of reading was a common bond between Vira and Tony that began when they merged similar book collections upon their marriage, which then developed into a lifelong hobby enjoyed together. Vira’s husband, Tony, lost his battle with cancer in 2011.
Positivity emanates from Vira as she shares the stories of her life experiences. She learned her “can do attitude” from her father who always taught her that anything was possible with will and determination.
Her advice to us is this: