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North Hills Monthly

Former College Dean’s Tale of Grandparents Inspires Readers to Research Family Trees

Sep 30, 2015 02:42PM ● By Jill Cueni Cohen
Paul Gentile
In Dr. Paul Gentile’s second book, Salvatore and Maria, Finding Paradise, he documents the story of his immigrant grandparents searching for the American Dream. But Gentile’s own journey of becoming an author has taken even longer…and led him down a new path even as he enters his mid-seventies.

Formerly the dean of workforce training and development at Community College of Allegheny County’s (CCAC) North Campus, Gentile retired from the school in 1999, and then moved on to work at Duquesne University, where he retired from in 2004. “I was at CCAC for 20 years working on a team that developed the Dislocated Workers Training Program,” Gentile recalled, noting that during the 1980s, finding work was difficult for people in their 40s and 50s who had lost their jobs when the steel mills closed. “We had more than 12,000 unemployed steelworkers who we were able to train and place.”

Gentile’s grandfather, Salvatore Ciccone, became a Pittsburgh steel mill worker after working in Colorado mines at the turn of the twentieth century. “My grandparents’ story is a familiar one in so many American families,” said Gentile. “It’s the story of Italian immigrants who came here and faced a variety of challenges. When I was a child, I used to talk to my grandfather about his life and get him to tell me about how he traveled by himself on a boat to America in 1902 and worked in the mines, and how he met my grandmother. I was fascinated.”

Unfortunately, Ciccone died in 1975. “I never got around to writing his story,” Gentile said, adding that his retirement was the motivation to really begin researching the details of his grandparents’ lives while traveling to all of the places they had been. “Now it’s history, but he was going through it.”

After marrying the former Maria Grosso, Salvatore and his bride moved to the Pittsburgh area so he could work in the steel mills. Together they raised five children and refused to let economic hardship diminish their joy in spending time with each other. “It’s a family saga and an American story of immigration and assimilation,” noted Gentile, adding that he had to really dig deep in genealogical research to create the book.

And genealogy lovers take notice. “People who have an interest in genealogy always want to talk to me after I do book-signing appearances, because they want to find out about how I did my research,” said Gentile, marveling at the amount of people who are interested in history. He noted that genealogy has really become a national pastime, thanks to websites that make it easier for people to discover the roots of their family trees.

Gentile, 74, has an MA degree from Duquesne University and a Ph.D. from the University of Pittsburgh, and this is his second book. He is the author of the travel memoir, Dolce Far Niente: Sweet Doing Nothing. Salvatore and Maria, Finding Paradise is part of the Harmony Memoir Series and is available at Barnes & Noble, and by special order at local libraries.