Tillie Tarantino

Tillie Tarantino

Photo by Rafael Gamo

In 1968, grassroots women leaders Elizabeth Speranza, Molly Manna, Tillie Tarantino, Millie LaCioppa, Margaret LaPolla, Marion Varriale, Agnes Grappone, Anna Barone, Frances Anella and Anna Mae Pecora founded the Conselyea Street Block Association (CSBA) to improve the lives of those in Williamsburg-Greenpoint.

In 1969, under the guidance of woman activist Jan Peterson, the CSBA founded the Small World Day Care and Swinging Sixties Community Center to bring services to children, parents and seniors in the community. In 1975, Tillie Tarantino became the Executive Director of the Swinging Sixties, challenging the notions of traditional roles for women. Her dedication and commitment to social justice for over three decades has had a lasting impact in Williamsburg-Greenpoint.

Tillie Tarantino is a lifelong Williamsburg resident. She graduated from the Neighborhood Women College Program with an associate and bachelor degree. She is founding member of the Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation (GREC) where she represented the CSBA. Tillie has a special interest on seniors’ rights, always advocating at the local, city and state levels, for improved senior housing and access to health programs such as the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC). She has also been a strong advocate for retirement benefits for those working at senior centers.

The building located at 29-39 Debevoise St, Neighborhood Women Houses, is named Marie Leanza and Tillie Tarantino Building in her honor.

Tillie Tarantino

Tillie Tarantino

Biography of Tillie M. Tarantino

Tillie Marie Manna was born on December 21, 1931 as the first child to her Italian immigrant parents, Antonio Paolino Manna and Amalia (Vanoimen) Manna, who came to America from their hometown Nola, Naples, Italy. Her birthplace was a three story home located at 266 Leonard Street, Brooklyn, New York, which was owned by her father’s brother, Michele (“Mike”) Manna and his wife (also her mother’s sister) Carolina (Vanoimen) Manna (known as “the Leonard Street family home”). As a child she resided in the 2nd floor of the Leonard Street family home with her parents, her younger siblings (sister Carmela [“Millie”] and brother Philip Anthony). Similar to many other Italian immigrant families her Uncle Mike and Aunt Caroline resided on the 1st Floor of the Leonard Street family home with their seven (7) children. She attended elementary school at Public School (P.S.) 18 and Junior High School (J.H.S.) 196 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. After graduating from JHS 196 she attended Washington Irving High School where she was a member of the order of the Daisy and graduated with an academic diploma. Although Tillie “always liked education and wanted to further herself” by pursuing her educational career to become a dental hygienist; “in an Italian family it’s always assumed that the girl will get married…and start a family” therefore after graduation from high school at the age of 18 she began working in secretarial jobs. Also due to the expense of education it was too hard for her family to allow her to pursue her desire to continue her educational studies since her family need to save their money to send her only brother to college.

In the early 1950s, her parents purchased a three family home located at 64 Conselyea Street, Brooklyn, New York (“the Manna family home”). On July 18, 1959 she married an Italian immigrant man from the town of San Paolo Belisto, Naples, Italy at Saint Francis of Paola Roman Catholic Church in Williamburg, Brooklyn.   Thereafter, the newlywed couple began residing in the third floor apartment of the Manna family home. Two years later, on July 18, 1961, she gave birth to her first child, Angela Paola Tarantino. On March 18, 1963, her son, Paolo (“Paul”) Tarantino was born. Also in the 1960s she worked as a legal secretary in a local attorney’s office on Lorimer Street in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

After the death of her father in the late 1960s Tillie, her mother Amalia (“Molly”) and her sister Millie LaCioppa joined several of their Italian-American neighbors Elizabeth Speranza, Margaret LaPolla, Marion Varriale, Agnes Grappone, Anna Barone, Frances Anella and Anna Mae Pecora organized by a woman activist, Janice (“Jan”) Peterson, to combat the problems the block faced due to sharing backyards with a strip of rundown buildings along Metropolitan Avenue. This group of women became the founders of the Conselyea Street Block Association (CSBA). After working together to address this immediate issue the group of Italian-American women organized by Jan Peterson sponsored children’s summer programs and formally created Conselyea Street Education Action Center, Inc., a domestic non-for-profit corporation, formed on November 9, 1972.

During this same time period while advocating for others, unbeknownst to most, Tillie and her children became the victims of domestic violence. Tillie, a very humble daughter of Italian immigrants, never aired her personal information publically. Yet, after becoming empowered by the support of her close-knit Italian-American family she separated from her husband in the early 1970s. Also during this time the group of women began its campaign to build a million-dollar community center and formally created the Conselyea Street Block Association, Inc. (“CSBA”), another domestic non-for-profit corporation, formed on March 19, 1973. The CSBA was founded to improve the lives of those in Williamsburg-Greenpoint and created the Small World Day Care and Swinging Sixties Senior Center located at 211 Ainslie Street to bring services to children, parents and seniors in the community.

After lengthy litigation in the Kings County Supreme Court, Tillie was finally divorced from her abuser in 1974. As a single mother, Tillie raised two children without any financial support from her ex-husband. As a school secretary for many years she financially struggled to pay for tuition to provide both her children a Catholic school education. Despite the financial strain, Tillie always valued the importance of Catholic education and she worked hard as the school secretary of Saint Francis of Paola Elementary School to send both her children to this catholic elementary school in Williamsburg, Brooklyn and then Christ the King Regional High School. In fact in the 1970s she supported herself and her two children with a “$7,800-a-year salary.”

Tillie Tarantino began working as the program director of the Swinging Sixties Senior Center in 1974. Although some believed chastised Tillie’s ability to become the Executive Director of the Swinging Sixties due to her lacked of a college degree, in 1975 she became the Executive Director of the Swinging Sixties and provided thirty-nine (39) years for service to this agency. By achieving this promotion, Tillie challenged the notions of traditional roles for women, particularly in Italian-American community in Williamsburg. As a lifelong resident of Williamburg-Greenport, her dedication and commitment to social justice for over three decades has had a lasting impact in this community Williamsburg-Greenpoint. For many years she was an active member of Community Board 1, board member of various community organizations and was a founding member of Greenpoint Renaissance Enterprise Corporation (GREC) where she represented the CSBA. She also graduated from the National Congress of Neighborhood Women College Program with an associate degree and then received bachelor degree from another community program in 1985, the same year her son graduated college and the year her first year her first grandchild was born.

 

Tillie Tarantino, the first born daughter of Italian immigrants, was the epitome of a first generation Italian-American child. She had an impeccable work-ethic providing thirty nine years of service to Swinging Sixties Senior Center. She always had a special interest to advocate for seniors’ rights. She specifically fought for improved senior housing and access to health programs such as the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage (EPIC) at the local, city, state and national levels. In addition she was a strong advocate for retirement benefits for those working at senior centers. While being a passionate community advocate for seniors and the Williamburg-Greenpoint neighborhood, Tillie possess great pride to be an Italian-American, she became a founding member of the Williamsburg Chapter of the Daughters and Sons of Italian Heritage and each year in the month of July as a parishioner she enjoyed attending Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church’s annual Giglio feast, which is a tradition that came to America from her parents hometown in Nola, Italy. Tillie truly valued the importance of having a close-knit Italian-American family. After the tragic death of her son-in-law in 1996, she welcomed her daughter and two grandchildren to live with her in the third floor apartment of the Manna family home.   In the aftermath of this family tragedy, she helped and guided her daughter, who became a widow and single mother at the age of thirty-five, to raise her two young children, Maria, who was ten and Joseph, who was three years old at the time. She lived for spending time with her beloved family which included her son, Paul, his wife, Teresa, and their three children, Nicole, Paul, and Gabriela. In fact, her love for family was so evident she truly treasured the few minutes she spent each morning with her beloved younger brother, Philip, who offered to drive to work at Swinging Sixties only four blocks away from her home.

 

In 2006, after attending Maria’s college graduation from Saint John’s University, Tillie was diagnosed with Parkinson Disease. Although plagued with a depilating illness Tillie never lost her desire to advocate for and serve the senior citizens and the Williamburg-Greenpoint community she adored. She continued to work at Swinging Sixties Senior Center until she was terminated by the CSBA in August 2013 “due to lack of funding.” Tillie indicated that she “never left Williamsburg and insist[ed] she never will” when interviewed by the Sunday New Magazine in August 1977. Decades after that interview Tillie Tarantino kept her word, after her tumultuous battle with Parkinson Disease, she passed away in her home on Conselyea Street in Williamsburg on October 30, 2013. Although Tillie Tarantino departed on October 30, 2013 she leaves behind a great legacy, she will always be remembered as the beloved mother to Angela and Paul, cherished grandmother to Maria, Nicole, Paul, Joseph and Gabriela, devoted sister to Millie and the late Philip, loyal aunt to RoseAnn, Amalia, Christina, and Paula, dedicated Executive Director to the Swinging Sixties Senior Center, resilient advocate for the rights of senior citizens, community activist for the neighborhood of Williamsburg-Greenpoint, immense supporter empowering women to obtain an education and financial independence, and proud first generation Italian-American woman.

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