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Beniamino Martignetti, 87; helped others live American dream

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Mr. Martignetti started a construction company that evolved into a masonry supply business.

After working in a brick factory in England and as a construction laborer in Canada to earn money that would help expand his family's farm in Montefalcione, Italy, 28-year-old Beniamino Martignetti made a side trip to Boston.

That 1956 visit with his uncle, Anthony, the founder of Martignetti Liquors, changed his life and the lives of many others. Instead of returning to Italy, Mr. Martignetti stayed in Boston and became reacquainted with Elena Iantosca, who also had been born and raised in Montefalcione.

They married six months later and settled in an apartment on Endicott Street in the North End. Using his kitchen table as a desk, Mr. Martignetti started a construction company that evolved into a masonry supply business, Martignetti Enterprises, which is now run out of Woburn and Amesbury.


Mr. Martignetti, who was passionate about employing newly arrived immigrants from Montefalcione, and many from the Endicott Street neighborhood, died Dec. 24 in Tufts Medical Center several days after falling in his home. He was 87 and a longtime Medford resident.

"My dad would be out of the house and into a van by 5:30 a.m. and would have over a dozen immigrant men waiting for his direction of where they had to go, what material they needed, and what had to be done," recalled his daughter Lina Mawn of Medford. "He worked long hours, but was always at the dinner table with the family at 6 p.m., even if meant working on proposals late into the night."

As a young boy, Mr. Martignetti attended school with Francesco Cataldo, who died last year.

Cataldo's daughter, Maria, said that when her father arrived in Greater Boston in 1976, he "reconnected with Benny and worked for him as a bricklayer, and he'd often proudly point out something he had 'built for Benny.' Later in life, they sat together, drank coffee, and shared stories of their boyhood home."


Paolo DiGiovanni, now a chef and manager at Massimino's restaurant in the North End, arrived from Montefalcione in 1983 and was hired by Mr. Martignetti as a carpenter.

"Benny knew my father, Delio, from back home, and when my father visited me in the summer after closing his cabinet-making shop in Italy, Benny hired him, too," DiGiovanni said. "He was more a friend than a boss and a good man who always asked me what I needed because he went through a similar experience."

Starting out, Mr. Martignetti rented a yard and small garage in Malden that he used as an office, and later ran the business out of a gas station in Revere before moving it to Woburn. Six of his seven children are involved with the company.

In addition to sales, Martignetti Enterprises built homes and apartments over the years, primarily on the North Shore, and helped restore the Athenaeum Press Building in Cambridge.

A statue of a granite bull, displayed outside the Woburn office, was transported on a flatbed truck and displayed outside the funeral home during Mr. Martignetti's wake.

"It has a special meaning," said his son Anthony of Medford. "When my father was a teenager, he bought a bull for breeding at the family farm. He walked the bull back from the next town, and because his father was ill and in bed, he proudly arranged two mirrors so his father could see it. It was the talk of Montefalcione."


The farm still exists and now is operated by Mr. Martignetti's nephews.

Mr. Martignetti and Elena were married in St. Leonard Church on Hanover Street in the North End, where he donated the wrought-iron fence for the church's Peace Garden.

His other numerous charitable endeavors included founding the Martignetti Family Charity Bocce Tournament that has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for causes including St. Jude Children's Hospital, the Jimmy Fund, the Joey Fund, and McLean Hospital's Alzheimer's unit.

"I first met Benny after I was ordained 27 years ago," recalled the Very Rev. Gerard Petringa, Episcopal vicar of the Boston Archdiocese's North Region, who delivered the homily at Mr. Martignetti's funeral Mass. "He came to do some work at our church in Woburn which was right next to his office. He invited me over for coffee and that was the start of our friendship."

After Petringa's parents retired and moved to Arizona, "there was always a warm welcome and a place at the table for me at Benny's home."

Mr. Martignetti "was a man of tradition," said his daughter Rosemarie Hayes of Vienna. "He and our mom celebrated birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays with a special zeal. There were always balloons, handmade cards, and our favorite breakfast treats waiting for us when we awoke."

Rosemarie said one of her father's favorite expressions was, "If you don't celebrate the special days in life, then every day will be just the same."


Mr. Martignetti was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery in Medford.

In addition to his wife, Elena; his son Anthony; and his daughters Lina and Rosemarie, Mr. Martignetti leaves four other sons, Carmine of Medford, Beniamino Jr. of Chelmsford, Alessandro of Topsfield, and Paul of Boston; a brother, Antonio of Revere; three sisters, Lucia Musto and Emanuella, both of Montreal, and Sister Andonetta Martignetti of Rome; and six grandchildren.

Mr. Martignetti was one of eight children, and his life was spared during World War II when he and his brother Ferdinando narrowly missed boarding a train to Avellino, where they attended vocational school.

Their father had pleaded with them not to go because German troops were still nearby. That morning, the area was targeted by Allied bombers, the school was hit, and there were no survivors.

"So he lived to experience the American dream," said Mr. Martignetti's cousin Ron Martignetti, "and to the end of his days he mentioned how blessed he felt to be an American."

In a eulogy, Lina described her father's hands, saying they "poured the solid foundation for our family, giving us examples of courage, fortitude, and strength. Those were the strong, loving hands of a kind and gentle soul."

Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.