Adolph M. Maestranzi, a Special Olympics silver medalist, memorialized after his death at 70
In an era when parents often were urged to institutionalize children with Down syndrome, the Maestranzis “chose an alternative path, helping him essentially to live a life of his own choosing,” said Bob Okazaki, former head of Avenues to Independence.
Adolph Maestranzi was born with Down syndrome in 1951, at a time many parents were told it might be best to institutionalize a child with the condition and move on with their lives.
Instead, his parents Ben and Madelyn Maestranzi raised him in a home filled with music, good food and love from his four siblings.
“My brother went on to live a rich, full life,” his sister Loretta Maestranzi said.
After his father taught him to play bocce ball — and his brother Bart coached him — Mr. Maestranzi won a silver medal in the Illinois state Special Olympics.
Services were held earlier this month for Mr. Maestranzi, who died Nov. 19 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease.
He was 70 and had lived in recent years in the north suburbs with another sister after spending most of his life on the Northwest Side and in Park Ridge and Niles.
He found work through Avenues to Independence, a Park Ridge organization that helps people with disabilities. Sometimes, he put together packages of pilot wing pins to be handed out to kids who were flying. Other times, he assembled Gatorade water bottles or packets of sugar and creamer.
He was named Adolph for his maternal grandfather.
When he was born, the usual lifespan for many people with Down syndrome was about 20 years, according to Bob Okazaki, former executive director of Avenues to Independence. He said improvements in medical care and social support have dramatically increased longevity.
“Adolph was fortunate he had good family support, he had good childhood education and good support into his later years,” Okazaki said. “His mom was definitely committed to ensuring her son lived the best life possible.”
Mr. Maestranzi’s mother co-founded and managed the Avenues thrift store at 7710 W. Touhy Ave., which Okazaki estimated has brought in more than $2 million over the years.
With two older siblings and two younger — and a 20-year gap between Connie, the oldest, born in 1940, and Diane, the youngest, born in 1961 — “He was like the glue of the family,” Loretta Maestranzi said.
“If he saw somebody that was in trouble or unhappy, he would try to comfort them,” said Connie Maestranzi Gottschalk, a concert pianist.
Her brother never tired of listening to her play “La Montanara,” a song associated with the Alpine region of northern Italy, where his father was born.
Mr. Maestranzi went on vacations there with his sister Loretta and her family and would burst into songs from “The Sound of Music,” his favorite musical, singing, “Climb every mountain!” and “The hills are alive with the sound of music!”
He idolized his brother Bart. Sometimes, they’d share a shot of grappa after dinner.
When it was time for a haircut, he’d jump in his cousin Tino Maestranzi’s car to head to their Italian barber.
“He loved to look nice,” Connie Maestranzi Gottschalk said.
Mr. Maestranzi enjoyed good food and holidays, said the Rev. Robert Tonelli, a cousin.
On Halloween, he might trick or treat as Zorro or a Roman soldier. When a favorite neighbor wasn’t around on Halloween night, he wore his costume for a week so she’d get to see him.
At Christmas, he and his great-niece Brianna Carducci decorated the tree. Then, he’d let her turn him into a second tree.
“I would put a Christmas bow on his head,” she said. “I wrapped his whole body in tinsel and put lots of presents around him.”
His niece Lisa Carducci, who helped care for him in his final years, remembers him consoling her when she was around 12 and in tears over having to practice the violin.
“He lifted my hands away from my face,” she said, “and he gave me a big hug.”
Okazaki said the Maestranzis “were in the vanguard of the special ed movement — prior to 1975, there was no mandate for special education.”
“They were told to put him in a state-operated facility,” Loretta Maestranzi said of their parents. “But they just said, ‘No, we will love our son. We are going to raise him like our other children, to be as independent as possible.’”
As a member of the Avenues to Independence board, his mother worked to introduce rehabilitation services and job and social skill training, according to Larry Valentine, an early leader of the organization.
“She was ahead of her time,” Valentine said.
Mr. Maestranzi’s parents and brother Bart died before him. He is also survived by his sister Diane Durbin, his caregiver for the last eight years of his life.
“Families like the Maestranzis chose an alternative path,” Okazaki said, “helping him essentially to live a life of his own choosing.”