An Ascension Living Casa Scalabrini Christmas Story
Please enjoy this updated article, originally published in The Casa Chronicles December, 2018
“At Christmas, All Roads Lead Home”—Marjorie Holmes By Sue Zavoskey
When my spunky 30-something niece was a teenager, she developed a passion for Christmas village collectibles, which she carefully set up every year on multi-level platforms in my sister’s living room. It was a tradition we all enjoyed every Christmas Day. That is, until one executive-level job, two kids, a dog, and a big house relegated the elaborate Swiss village to a nice, cozy retirement in the corner of my sister’s attic.
So, it was a real nice treat to see a beautiful Christmas village and model railroad on display last December in the Casa living room. The village is set up every year and maintained by resident Floria DiVito, whom I have since gotten to know as both a resident and “historian” of Casa San Carlo and Villa Scalabrini. When I asked her to tell me about the village and her connection to Casa, we spent the better part of an engaging afternoon immersed in discussion about family, friendship, love, and of course, history.
Newcomers to Casa may not know that the expanse of land from Palmer St to North Ave, and Wolf Rd to the county line was once the Westward Ho Country Club, dating from the early 1920s to the late 1940s. Former, and now late Casa resident John Latoria first shared this history with me, as he related being a witness to the transformation of the golf course into the sprawling residential and healthcare campus we now know as Casa Scalabrini Village.
The golf course clubhouse once stood where the Healthcare Center is now, formerly Villa Scalabrini. And just as today’s country clubs are venues for weddings, parties, and other entertainment events; such was the case for the Westward Ho clubhouse one wintry Valentine’s Day afternoon in 1949. A big “Thank You” party was being held there for the folks (many of them just teenagers) who worked so diligently the previous summer at a carnival event that helped raise funds for building the original Villa Scalabrini Home for the Aged.
The two-week carnival fund-raiser took place on rented space at the corner of Roosevelt Rd and Cicero Ave in Chicago, and it proved to be a financial and social success. One of the teen girls working the carnival was a high school junior selling ice cream from a booth. She worked under the supervision of a priest who, coincidentally, would go on to become chaplain for both the Villa and Casa San Carlo. Father John made sure this young lady was invited to attend the big “Thank You” party on Valentine’s Day. She remembers how her two sisters left her on the sidelines holding their purses (and her own) while they went to dance, only to notice a handsome young man making a bee-line right in her direction. She didn’t know how she could dance holding three purses, but the young man had a sense of humor and wouldn’t take no for an answer; so, they both hit the dance floor sharing the handbag load! They would go on to share over 60 happy years together.
The young man turned out to be Tony DiVito, brother of Father John DiVito, who played “cupid” on that memorable Valentine’s Day. Father John would later officiate at the young bride’s wedding, where she was walked down the aisle by a beloved uncle who helped to ease the pain from the recent loss of her father. And now, after experiencing many years of both joy and heartache, Floria DiVito is able to look back warmly on a life well lived. (The photo on the previous page was taken not too long after the young couple first met.)
So how did Floria become custodian of Casa’s annual Christmas village display? She got recruited, that’s how! She was asked by Sister Elizabeth Trem, former Casa Director, to set up a model train set that she (Sister) had in her personal possessions. From there the display grew to include model houses, churches, and decorations that were since donated over the years. One acquisition came from the son of resident Mary Grenier, when he noticed that the village didn’t include a fire station. His gracious donation of a fire house and fire engine added a special touch to the elegant holiday display.
Floria credits our own Roger from maintenance with helping her establish a perfect spot for the village, setting up the right table and making sure the train tracks are securely in place. (And while we’re on that subject, a big shout-out to Roger for his tireless work in making Casa a meticulously bedecked showplace at every holiday season!)
If all roads do indeed lead home at Christmas, why not let the village railroad take you there? See you in the Casa living room!
Updated photo of Floria DiVito and her Christmas Village display. December, 2021
About Ascension Living Casa Scalabrini Village
Ascension Living Casa Scalabrini Village offers a range of care, services and support options for seniors including independent living, short-term rehabilitation, memory support as well as intermediate, respite, and skilled nursing care. For more information about Ascension Living Casa Scalabrini Village, call 708-562-4300 or visit www.ascensionliving.org/casascalabrini.
About Ascension Living
Ascension Living, based in St. Louis and part of Ascension, is a mission-driven senior care and living provider deeply connected to our Catholic faith that cares for the physical, mental, spiritual and social well-being of all individuals we serve. Our Mission calls us to provide spiritually centered, holistic care to seniors, particularly those most in need. We offer a wide range of programs tailored to meet the unique needs of older adults. Regardless of each individual’s stage in life, our goal is to provide seniors with opportunities designed to make their lives joyful, enriching and satisfying. With communities in 11 states and the District of Columbia, our ministries are continually developing and adopting new best practices in care that enhance the experiences of our residents, program participants and patients. Learn more at www.ascensionliving.org.