By Ashley Luthern
One year ago today, 80-year-old Angeline Fimognari was murdered in the parking lot of St. Dominic Church, her parish.
Her death sparked widespread outrage and proved to be a catalyst for city and safety officials to increase their attention on the South Side.
Now, Delores Womack, a longtime South Side resident, tells of aesthetic changes in the neighborhood where Fimognari worshipped and died. She also tells of steady crime.
Nick Petrella, whose family has owned and operated The Boulevard Tavern for more than 80 years, discusses area tradition and business.
Melinda Knight, a parishioner of the church, reminds people of community at the church.
But before their stories comes that of a faithful woman, who in her death touched them all.
The two words repeated often by Angeline’s family in describing her are “caring” and “faithful.”
Her sister, Betty Milano, said Angeline — or Angie — spent a lifetime caring for others, including their mother, Mary Rose Fimognari.
“She never bought or did anything for herself; it was always for others,” said Betty, who lived two houses away from Angeline and said the two “did everything together.”
Betty’s daughter, Susan Milano, said Angeline was like a second mother to her and helped raise Susan’s children.
“Even though she was 80, she was so full of life. Whoever killed her hurt a lot of people,” Susan said.
She added that Angeline’s faith was so central to her life that when Angeline couldn’t drive, she would walk to the nearest church, St. Nicholas, about a mile away, even though many had offered to drive her.
“She was afraid to drive when it snowed and at night, but she felt safe going to church, going to St. Dominic’s,” Betty said.
Angeline’s niece Debbie Sheldone wrote that her aunt would have gone to St. Dominic’s the morning of Jan. 23, 2010, even if she already knew her fate.
“Knowing my aunt the way I did, I strongly believe that if she knew the outcome of that morning beforehand, she would have continued her journey to morning Mass and a journey to her place in heaven ...,” wrote Sheldone in an e-mail.
The brutality and randomness of Angeline’s death, which police suspect was originally a robbery, haunts her family.
“For such a beautiful woman to die in such ugly way,” Susan said. “Why he couldn’t just take her purse and leave? Why did he have to shoot her and shoot her in the head? It doesn’t make sense.”
Susan said of her aunt’s death: “We don’t want it to be forgotten.”
Not only that, said Betty, but Angeline’s life should not be forgotten.
“It’s all about [Mayor] Jay Williams and his city, and Father [Gregory] Maturi and his church. People forget the fact that Angie lost her life,” Betty said.
Delores Womack has lived on the city’s South Side for 17 years. Her East Boston home is about a half mile from St. Dominic’s.
She said the aesthetics of the neighborhood have improved in the last year through Operation Redemption, but crime remains steady.
“There are reasons why the crime hasn’t decreased, and the main reason is the kids don’t have jobs. They have no hope,” she said.
Womack said there are young men in the neighborhood who want to work, suggesting they could cut grass for the city. She laments the lack of a playground for recreation, “an outlet” for young adults.
And, she said, the South Side needs more policing.
Despite the occasional sound of gunfire and cases of burglary, she describes her everyday life as “fairly quiet and peaceful” — but credits that to her reputation.
“I live on this street, and they know I don’t take no prisoners. That’s what people need to understand, that they need to call the police, and they need to make the police accountable,” she said.
She also expressed frustration and anger that it took the murder of two elderly white people to bring attention to the South Side.
“St. Dom’s has been a very positive influence, and for this to happen to their people, when they’re not doing anything, they’re not bothering anyone, that was awful. I’m not trying to downplay that. It was awful,” Womack said. “But so many of our children were shot and killed, and there was no outcry from the people in Boardman and the people in Austintown. They were like, ‘That’s business as usual.’”
Womack said she tries to dispel preconceived notions people have about the South Side.
“Everybody in the hood is not poor by choice. Some of these people are like me. They came from good backgrounds, good families, and they ended up here because of their life situations or their circumstances,” she said.
Another preconception is that people can ignore the South Side because it’s not near them.
“They’re in the Twilight Zone if they don’t understand that blight moves. It doesn’t stay put. It moves,” she said. “When I bought this house, blight was down there [pointing north], and now blight, it’s in my backyard. I thought, ‘I’m safe, I’m on the other side of the railroad tracks.’ But it didn’t work.”
Nick Petrella owns a piece of history.
The Boulevard Tavern, 3503 Southern Blvd., has been a mainstay of Youngstown since 1937, when Petrella’s grandfather turned his grocery store into a tavern.
He said the last year has been rough for business.
“Since the incidences at St. Dom’s, it’s been extremely slow. They definitely had an effect on business,” he said, referring to the Fimognari case and that of Thomas Repchic on Sept. 25. Both worshipped at and were killed near St. Dominic Church.
The Boulevard Tavern is across the street from the church.
Although he said the neighborhood has been getting better through the efforts of Operation Redemption, he is still losing business. December was particularly hard, with bad weather and holidays falling on Fridays — the busiest day of the week for the restaurant.
“I don’t worry about myself as much as losing the history of this place,” he said. “The Boulevard means a lot to a lot of my customers.”
Two of his customers are David and Karen Leetch. The pair grew up in the neighborhood with the Petrella family. They dine at The Boulevard at least twice a week.
“We like to think of it as the ‘Cheers’ of Youngstown,” Karen said, referring to the popular 1980s television sitcom.
The couple sit in the corner booth with a photo of their daughter’s wedding hanging on a nearby wall. Both of their daughters had rehearsal dinners at The Boulevard.
“Generations of our family have eaten at The Boulevard. When they come home, the first place they want to go is to The Boulevard and see Nicky [Petrella],” Karen said, whose children live in Columbus, Nebraska and Washington, D.C.
David said he thinks people are letting fear keep them from patronizing The Boulevard.
“We’re not afraid to come down here. Whatever people perceive it as, we can’t change their minds. We don’t have a problem with coming here,” he said.
That’s good news for Petrella, because he has no intention of moving.
The Boulevard is considered a business anchor, along with Dr. Daniel Ebert’s veterinary clinic. The street lost its third anchor late last year when True Tread Tire relocated to U.S. Route 224 outside the city.
“Moving is one of those things I’ve never contemplated. People ask, ‘Why don’t you move?’” he said. “I’m 64 years old. It’s a big step to make at that age.”
He also relies on a positive attitude and advice from his father.
“You gotta take what comes,” he said. “Early on, my father told me when I was wondering what to order, what food to get, for the restaurant: ‘Don’t try to figure it out, just be ready.’”
Melinda Knight joined St. Dominic Church in 1985. She never imagined that 25 years later her parish would be the site of a murder.
On Jan. 23, 2010, Knight — who usually goes to 8 a.m. daily Mass — attended a noon service, just hours after Fimognari was killed in the parking lot.
“When I was walking out, another parishioner told me about it, and she used the word ‘murdered.’ It was a horrible shock,” she said. “... I just remembered being overwhelmed with a sense of evil.”
A year later, Knight said parishioners remain devoted to St. Dominic’s.
“People are not abandoning the parish that I can tell. Going to Sunday and daily Mass, I see the numbers have been steady. I do know a few families who have decided to go elsewhere, but they are very few,” she said.
Although Knight said Fimognari kept mostly to herself, their paths did cross.
“Angeline was very interested in the sanctity of life,” said Knight, who is director of the Office of Pro-Life, Marriage and Family Ministry for the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown.
Knight called the outpouring of support for the parish and the collaboration between the city and religious leaders “inspiring.”
“I think these violent acts were shocking enough — of course every murder is shocking and tragic — but it was the total randomness of the acts,” she said, including Repchic’s murder.
Knight described the loyalty and leadership of the faith family at St. Dominic’s.
“I really think that there are some true examples of holiness there, Angeline being one of them,” she said.
Knight said she hopes people who are not involved with the church will make a point to stop by for Mass. She said going to the parish dispels many of the preconceptions people have of the area.
“It’s one thing to read about it in the paper and another to actually go there,” she said.
She referenced an analogy made by Pope Benedict XVI about people leaving the Catholic church and applied it to St. Dominic Church.
“On the outside of the church, the stained glass is dark and dirty,” she said. “But on the inside, when the sun shines through, it’s beautiful. And everything makes sense.”