Eulogy for my grandfather—Jack Cacciabondo

September 25, 1942 ~ September 19, 2021 (age 78)

On September 24, 2021, I delivered the following eulogy for my grandfather.

Thank you for coming today to honor my grandfather, Jack Cacciabondo. To some here, he was family – a loving husband, father, grandfather, an uncle or brother-to others, a valued friend, a fierce competitor on the greens, a dining companion at Augustinos, a cigar buddy. Perhaps he was a mentor at IFT or your barber. Hopefully, you weren’t the subject of his very mild road rage or the server at a restaurant who responded to his request for extra napkins with “no problem.” Why would there be a problem?

To me – he was my papa. As his first and only grandchild for nearly nine years, I lucked out. This gave me the unique advantage of being extra spoiled. 

For the last few years, his memories have been fading with the horrible Alzheimer’s Disease. So last year, as the pandemic progressed and I got a new job at WGN (which he was incredibly proud of), my boyfriend and I moved in with him and my grandmother. This move was for several reasons, but most importantly, it was to help my grandmother take care of him and cherish our time together.

I think 2020 was probably the closest I was to him. As the disease progressed, there was extra anxiety at night, so I began to lay in bed and help him fall asleep. Or sometimes, we’d just stay up late in bed and laugh. I am so grateful for those moments. 

Alzheimer’s was rough, but he never forgot us. Just a few days ago, his face lit up when he saw his only granddaughter Cayley, and he kissed me about a dozen times in hospice. One of his last words to me was “Stonco,” for those non-Italian speakers, that’s “tired.” It was part of the limited Italian dictionary he taught me, many words which would provide no use if I somehow needed them in an emergency in Italy.

As his memory was fading quickly, I wanted to capture an oral history of his life. One night in bed, I interviewed him. I listened to that conversation for the first time this week. 

I asked him how he wanted to be remembered.

“As a good husband, a good father, and a good grandpa,” he said.

He was a fantastic grandpa to all of us – Tommy, Alan, Jack, Danny, Nicky, and Cayley – and of course, Charlie, who he is with now. 

My grandfather was my biggest fan. He followed my journalism career very intently. When I got this job at WGN, he was agitated that they didn’t mention my hiring on TV. I tried to explain that’s not how it works, but he didn’t have it. He was also incredibly accepting and proud when I came out, something that shouldn’t have surprised me. 

One story that shows just how much he cared about me was when I was in 5th grade. I was picked to attend some week-long event in Washington D.C. He traveled with me there and checked me in for the summit. I later learned that he got a bad feeling while dropping me off, so he grabbed an itinerary and covertly followed me around the nation’s capital. I recall standing for a group picture at one of the monuments and seeing him in the distance. I thought, “that’s so odd.” Little did I know he was at every stop. Apparently at Gettysburg, he was on the tour bus behind mine, getting his own private tour. 

In our interview, we talked about his Italian heritage — I’m sorry — Sicilian heritage. According to the DNA service 23 and ME, he was 88% Italian, 2% Egyptian, 2% Anatolian and the rest mixed across Africa and Europe. Despite the company’s claim to being 90% accurate by several scientific studies, my grandfather was 100% sure the results were wrong. He was 100% Italian and there was no one or no test that could prove him wrong. 

He wondered aloud to me why his father changed the spelling of his name from Cacciabaudo to Cacciabondo after arriving at Ellis Island. 

He loved Italian food. He told me how much he loved his mother’s fresh-baked bread, something he was reminded of on a visit years later to Sicily. 

In America, there was only one place he could eat Italian food. 2917 North Harlem Avenue in Chicago, or Augustino’s. He brought many of us there and his clients at the Institute of Food Technologists, where he was the sales manager.

Following his retirement, he was able to golf his backyard course, often seven days a week at Lake Barrington Shores. He was a proud member of the Shoresmen league. 

We also talked about his role in a prominent moment in American history – The Bay of Pigs. I can’t share the verbatim story on the Catholic church altar because his retelling of this story had a few choice words. As a Marine in 1961, he was on a ship headed to Guantanamo Bay with his fellow Marine Jeramiah O’Shaunnesy. They were told to get ready to hit the beaches — and to lock and load. As he retold the story to me, he said Jeremiah turned to him and said, “what the heck are we doing here?”

Most of all, he was so proud of his family. He told me he had one-in-a-million kids with my Mom  – Mia, he described as an extremely smart kid, and my uncle Michael for his involvement in everything from Little League to running. 

The most touching parts of our interview were about his bride of 53 years, Sharon. 

“We were in high school together. And it was really love at first sight,” he said. “I mean, she was cute. She was a cheerleader.”

He adored her, maybe drove her a little nutty, but they were each other’s world. 

I asked him, what was the greatest lesson he learned in life?

His simple response: “Get married.”

I asked him—What did that teach you?

“It taught me not to fool around. Because your grandma is one in a million, she came out of retirement for me. Yeah. She takes care of me,” he said.

His wife, of course, a retired nurse who took care of him at home longer than most could handle with someone diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. In memory care, the hospital, and hospice, she was at his side every moment possible between COVID-19 restrictions. 

I asked him, what would he do without her?

“I would lose my mind. Although I don’t even think about that,” he said.

He didn’t have to. After more than a year apart due to the pandemic, he was able to sleep next to his beloved bride for his final night on Earth and peacefully passed away shortly after sunrise.

My enduring memories of Jack Cacciabondo are simple and his legacy is exactly as he wanted – an incredible husband, father and grandfather. It has been a privilege to write this eulogy and express the sadness that all of us share over his loss. Papa – thank you for everything you’ve given us and done for us, and for the warmth we shared during the precious time you spent with us. We all miss you.

Obiturary

Jack Cacciabondo, 78, of Barrington, passed away peacefully surrounded by his loving family on September 19, 2021. He was born on September 25, 1942 in Chicago to the late Michael and Rosalie Cacciabondo.

Jack was a proud veteran of the United States Marine Corps. On May 4, 1968, he was united in marriage to Sharon Tripp at St. Gregory the Great Church in Chicago. They enjoyed 53 years of love and companionship. Together they had two children who were their greatest joys.

He was a barber for many years at Sam’s Barbershop and then at “Jack the Barber”. He went on to be a sales manager at the Institute of Food Technologists until his retirement.

Jack was a proud of his Italian heritage and greatly enjoyed Italian food, especially from Ristorante Agostino in Chicago. He was a parishioner at Transfiguration Catholic Church in Wauconda and also a member of Lake Barrington Shoresmen Golf Club. He loved all Chicago Sports teams, a good game of golf and smoking fine cigars.

In addition to his loving wife, Sharon, he is survived by his children, Mia (Bill) Geheren of Huntley, IL and Michael (Melissa) Cacciabondo of Arlington Heights, IL; grandchildren, Michael, Tommy and Danny Geheren, Alan, Jack, Cayley and Nicky Cacciabondo; his sister, Joann Richardson; sister-in-law, Teri Tripp; and by many loving nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents, his grandson, Charlie Geheren; and his sister, Dolly Muscanero. 

Funeral Mass will be Friday, September 24, 2021 at 10:30 AM at Transfiguration Catholic Church, 316 W Mill St, Wauconda, IL 60084. A gathering will take place an hour prior to mass. Interment will be private.

*Masks will be required for all at church per current Illinois guidelines.*

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, www.jdrf.org or to Alzheimer’s Association, www.alz.org

By Michael Geheren

Michael Geheren is a project manager at 10up.

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