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October 22, 2008 > History: Ralph and Mary Ruggieri, tireless volunteers

History: Ralph and Mary Ruggieri, tireless volunteers

By Myrla Raymundo

On November 23, 1998, the Ralph & Mary Ruggieri Senior Center, named after Ralph & Mary Ruggieri, located at 33997 Alvarado-Niles Road, Union City, opened its facility to an estimated 9,500 seniors who live in Union City. The Senior Center was the culmination of years of hard work and dedication by the dynamic Ruggieri duo.

This 14,500 square-foot facility includes a large assembly hall, dining room, kitchen, classrooms and other activity rooms. Seniors can participate in arts and crafts programs, use computers, take classes on many topics including dancing, health, and writing, and enjoy an affordable noon meal.

Ralph Leonard Ruggieri was born in Ravenna, Ohio, on November 5, l911. The oldest of six children born to Italian immigrants Dominic and Mary Josephine Ruggieri, he attended school through the ninth grade and then went to work for his father who owned a grocery store. Ralph did not pass the physical requirements to enter the U. S. Armed Forces during World War II so he worked on the home front with the war movement and American Red Cross.

Mary Jacqueline Cantelmo was born in Warren, Ohio, on December 29, 1912. The middle child of nine born to Michael and Michaelina Cantelmo, Mary attended school through the sixth grade. She eventually went to work for relatives in Rhode Island who owned a jewelry factory. There, she became very talented with her hands.

Ralph and Mary met in Providence, Rhode Island. After Ralph returned to Ohio, they wrote letters back and forth; Ralph and Mary were engaged around Thanksgiving in l932. They were married on February 11, 1933 and blessed with two children, Mary Josephine Ruggieri, born on October 9, l934, and Dominic Jules Ruggieri, born on June 27, 1936.

In l946, Ralph and Mary moved with their family to California. Ralph built his family's first home in Oakland and then relocated to San Leandro. In l970, Ralph and Mary moved to Fremont and finally to Union City.

Ralph supported the family by working in the furniture business. In addition to working on furniture, he was responsible for making bids to secure furniture design contracts with hospitals and restaurants. He later sold his shares in the furniture business and began working as a real estate broker until his retirement at age 70.

Mary worked in the home as a self-taught seamstress. She helped the family furniture business by sewing leather seats for chrome chairs.

Both Ralph and Mary had a strong faith in God and took pride in giving to others. As longtime active parishioners of St. Anne's in Union City, they worked to develop the Parish Council; Ralph served as the organization's first president.

Loving grandparents, Ralph and Mary would often spend time taking their grandchildren to sporting events and activities.

Active Lions Club members, Ralph served as a district governor. The Lions Club also asked Ralph and Mary to manage the group's Blind Center in Oakland. Mary taught the blind how to sew an American flag using Braille and different textures of the red, white, and blue fabric. Ralph planned dinners, parties, and bazaars for the center. Ralph received the Helen Keller award for their work at the center. The Ruggieris were also involved in the Hayward Chamber of Commerce and the Knights of Columbus in which Ralph achieved the highest order possible.

Ralph and Mary spent a significant amount of time working on behalf of seniors. Ralph was the first chair of the Union City Senior Citizen's commission and he served for eight years on the Alameda County Advisory Commission on Aging. They were deeply concerned that seniors did not have enough space for activities to enrich their lives and dreamed of a place where seniors could work, meet, and live. At the time, seniors had no place set aside to address their needs. Over the next several years, Ralph and Mary put in a lot of legwork, drumming up support and organizing meetings, persistently lobbying community leaders and the city council.

Finally, the Ralph & Mary Ruggieri Senior Center was built on Alvarado Niles Road., a culmination of years of hard work and dedication.

Ralph and Mary had been married 64 years at the time of Ralph's death on July 21, l997. After helping her family through trying times and contributing to the community, Mary's work was finally done and she joined her husband on October 25, 2000.

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