It seems everyone in Crescenta Valley has at one time or another met up with friends and family at Dominick’s Italian Restaurant. The Russo family, owners of Dominick’s, has been part of the community for 40 years and always seem to be having a fundraiser for one of the local schools or nonprofit organizations. It was that kind of philanthropy, community spirit and support for others that embodied Frankie Russo Jr., son of Frank and Carmela.
It was late on Feb. 27 when Frankie left Alverno High School in Sierra Madre where he worked as an athletic director. He and Ann Gillick, head of the school, were the last ones to leave the building.
“He went home and that is when he had a stroke,” Gillick said.
He died March 1, leaving a hole in the hearts of those whose lives he touched in two communities.
Frankie’s family moved to La Crescenta in 1970; he attended Crescenta Valley High School and could be seen standing at the counter of the family’s restaurant.
“He was warmhearted,” said sister-in-law Judy Russo. “He would give the shirt off his back to someone who needed help.”
He and his brother Anthony were raised to help others and to support their community, Russo added. “Our family motto is to help out when you can.”
But beyond the family’s restaurant, in the community where he taught Frankie made a name for himself as a fair and wise man.
“He was loved by the whole community,” Gillick said. “On [the day he died] the girls created a shrine to him on campus and wrote letters to the family.”
Gillick said at Alverno, being an all girls’ school, “there were a lot of tears. And that was good.”
Frankie had been with Alverno for 19 years as athletic director; he also coached softball there.
“He always gave the girls great advice and they went to CIF,” Russo said.
“Out of his 19 years here we went to CIF 18 years,” Gillick said. “His record was phenomenal.”
Around the time of his death the girls on the school’s soccer team went to CIF playoffs. They won the quarterly and regional; even though Frankie was gone, they kept his spirit with them throughout the playoffs. “The girls gathered around and yelled, ‘Frankie, Frankie, Frankie’ like a chant,” Gillick said. It was their way of dedicating their games to their beloved director.
Both Russo and Gillick said the thing they would miss most about Frankie was his smile.
“He was a “yes man,” my teddy bear,” Russo said.
She said she was lucky to have both her husband and his brother to help support and guide her children.
Gillick said she would also miss his sense of humor and wisdom. “He would always come up with some old Sicilian saying,” she said. “One of his favorites was, ‘Every little bit of a fly’s liver is sustenance.’”
She laughed at remembering him saying this to her. “You know, sometimes he would say things and you would go, ‘What does that mean?’ but then, when you thought about it, it made perfect sense.”
Frankie’s funeral was held on March 6. Russo said she and the family were honored by the amount of people that showed their support.
“The sheriff’s deputies came and blocked the street for the procession,” Russo said.
There were still cards and letters coming into the restaurant and to the family.
Russo said the family is doing the best they can with the loss but are grateful to the community for its thoughts and prayers.
“We want to thank everyone for their outpouring of love and affection,” Russo said. “I don’t think my brother-in-law knew how much he was loved.”