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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

G.B. Russo Marries Again

by Kim Rush, John Russo, and Martin Starr

A friend told G.B. that he knew of a nineteen-year-old woman in Pittsburgh that would be good wife for him. G.B. traveled immediately to Pittsburgh, was introduced to her, and they were soon married. Approximately sixteen months after Crocifissa’s death, Russo married ‘Jennie’ (Giovanna Menzalora) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on June 25, 1914. Though they were deeply in love, Jennie and her spouse experienced a troubled start to their lives together; their first child, Rosa, died at birth in 1915. 

Jennie had attended business school, spoke English and Italian, and possessed the education and accounting skills that G.B. lacked. He had finished first grade in Sicily, then had to leave school as he was needed on his father’s farm. In later years, he attended night school in Grand Rapids to learn how to read. G.B. needed someone to mind the store, manage the bookkeeping, set up accounts and write checks. He began depending on Jennie to run the businesses, and she became his major asset.

However, Jennie was more inclined to worry about their business ventures than her husband. He served as an innovator and risk-taker, readily pursuing what he envisioned without hesitation. He was confident and fearless. Fellow Sicilian immigrants often turned to G.B. for help and advice concerning whom to contact about employment as well as about others needs, as he was swift to create connections and valuable friendships with people both inside and outside of the Sicilian community.

G.B.and Jennie became the proud parents of their only son, Frank, October 9, 1916; as a gesture to the birth he renamed his business, G.B. Russo & Son. Within the next five years they were blessed with three daughters. Rosa Maria, more commonly known as Rose Mary, was born in 1918. G.B. registered for military service at age 33 on 9.18.18, but apparently did not serve in the armed forces. Most likely, this was because World War I came to an end in November of this same year. The following year, Beatrice Mary was born, and their last baby girl, Jennie Margaret, arrived in 1921. Their family now comprised six daughters and one son. They attended Our Lady of Sorrows Catholic church, the first Italian parish in Grand Rapids. G.B. was one of the founding members of this church. 

Jennie also helped the D’Amico’s, whose grocery store was across the street from Russo’s, with their accounting. At that time, almost everything was sold on credit terms, and huge ledger books were maintained to keep track of these debts. Anna D’Amico was unschooled and relied on her memory to account for all credit purchases made at her store. Jennie helped determine appropriate pricing for products sold in their store as well as recorded creditor information in their store ledger. In March of 1920 Anna’s husband, Frank D’Amico, was murdered by a former employee, and the D’Amico family needed Jennie’s help even more than before.

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