Umberto (Al) Marganelli 1928 - 2021

Umberto (Al) Marganelli passed away peacefully December 7, 2021, in McMinnville, Oregon. 

He was born June 8, 1928, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, to Maria Grazia and Pasquale Marganelli. His father, Pasquale, had immigrated to the USA in 1917, and became a naturalized citizen after serving in WW1.

Umberto was the eldest of four children: younger twin brothers, Argante and Armando, and younger sister, Elsa.

When Umberto was a child, his family returned to their family origins in Cocullo, Aquila, Italy. They remained in Cocullo during Nazi occupation. As Americans in Italy during that time, life was not easy and often dangerous. As a young boy, Umberto heeded his mother’s instructions to be extremely cautious and careful. The eldest in their family, Umberto felt the heavy responsibility of keeping not only his parents, brothers and baby sister safe, but also his younger cousins and extended family who lived in their village. The war years made an impression on young Umberto and shaped the kind of man he wanted to be: one of character and integrity.

At the age of 18, Umberto returned to the United States to serve in the United States Army. He was sent to boot camp in Maryland; shortly thereafter, he was shipped off to Korea to participate in the U.S. conflict there. Umberto was intelligent, well-liked and a quick study. His superiors recognized this and ran him up the ranks to serve as assistant Army medic. He loved medicine and everything about it. He would have made a great doctor, but life had other plans for him.

For his bravery in Korea, Umberto was awarded the Purple Heart Medal. Like many, he spoke little of the war but was proud to have served.
After the war, he returned to Saint Paul, where he joined his younger brothers. He got a job in a large company that was the largest mattress manufacturer in the United States. He became so well-liked by the owner that he looked upon him like a son. While there, Umberto was instrumental in creating a patented invention that is now known as the mattress box spring. His boss recognized Umberto’s integrity and character that he made it a point to meet Umberto’s parents on his next trip to Europe.

Shortly thereafter, Umberto met a young American woman of German descent named Donna. They fell in love and got married. They had happy times with Donna’s parents, Umberto’s family in lovely car rides and boat excursions in and around Minnesota.

Umberto loved his American cars and loved his boats. Minnesota was the perfect place for taking the boat out on the lake. The car rides often included trips to North Bay, Canada, to visit Umberto’s aunt and cousins who had transferred there from Cocullo. There they had many wonderful times as well.

Sadly, the happy times soon came to an end when Donna suddenly died of an illness. They had no children. Umberto was broken-hearted but never forgot Donna and continued to talk about her often for the remainder of his life.

Umberto continued to work for the mattress manufacturer, and by this time had secured a job with management. He purchased a home and had saved enough money to visit his family in Italy.

In the mid-60s, he traveled to Sulmona, Italy, to visit his parents. There he met and married a young Italian woman named Cecilia.
They traveled back to the U.S. together, but remained married only a short time and later divorced. They had one child, a son named Anthony.
Although Umberto was happy at his job, he started to develop a passion for cooking. Like his father, he had a knack for food and began to study as a chef. His skills developed quickly, and soon he found himself being recruited to work in fine restaurants around town. When his longtime friend suggested he transfer to Las Vegas for a job in the culinary arts, he jumped at the chance to leave Minnesota and move closer to his sister, who was in Southern California.

The Vegas years brought long hours and hard work, but it was also a chance for him to work under some of the great chefs around. He learned under them, honed his skills and quickly became the sought-after chef among all. While working in Vegas, he created his own menu, his own signature dishes (named after his nieces and grandfather), and soon became the renowned chef of the rich and famous (Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., Don Rickles, Ann-Margrat, Dinah Shore, and a host of others.)

The years in Vegas brought him closer to his family. His sister, Elsa, her husband, Cesidio, and two nieces, Marianne and Lucy, were only a few hours drive from Vegas. It was close enough to visit them often in Anaheim, and he did.

The years visiting Anaheim were golden. Along with his sister, there was a large Italian community of his generation. When Umberto came to town, everyone knew it. His red Oldsmobile parked in his sister’s driveway was the clue to everyone that the next few days would be filled with joy, laughter, great food (lots of wine) and good times. And there were many, many, many good times.

Umberto remained in Las Vegas for a few years, but he grew tired of the fast-pace and late nights. After considering his options, he took a job in Eugene, Oregon. While living in Eugene, Al opened and ran the Green Frog and later opened his own restaurant, La Cucina. He was the talk of the town and the “skillets were never cold,” as they say in Italy. After several years of making his mark in Eugene, he opted for Oregon wine country. The area in Willamette reminded him a lot of Italy, and he settled McMinnville.

In McMinnville, he opened the restaurant that would bear his name, become the premiere dining spot for Italian fine dining for 40 years. Umberto’s Italian Cuisine is where he was happiest. There he made sure he had an open window into the dining room where he could converse with the diners as he whipped up specialty after specialty. His creativity in the kitchen knew no end, and people were excited to be part of it all. Along his side for all those years was his trusted and dedicated companion, Connie.

Umberto loved his customers, and he loved to cook. They became his family, and he would go out of his way to make them happy. The time he spent at his restaurant was filled with many memories and, again, lots of great times.

Just last month, Umberto began to embark on his most recent endeavor as a volunteer at the local Soup Kitchen, bringing his culinary magic to the poor and underprivileged. His generosity continued.

Umberto adored his friends and family. His nieces were very special to him, and they shared a special bond. They will miss their Uncle Al greatly. Umberto is survived by his dear Connie; his beloved sister, Elsa; his brother-in-law, Cesidio; his nieces, Marianne and Lucy; his son, Anthony; and grandson, Anthony Jr.

Umberto came from an honest, sincere and hard-working stock. He was kind to everyone, generous beyond measure, full of charisma and good humor, and always thought of others before himself. He was a true gentleman, never complained about anything, and treated everyone with kindness and compassion. His legacy will live on in anyone who knew him or even had a brief encounter with him because of the way he made people feel after an interaction. He made people feel warm, cozy and loved. And he did it so well.

Umberto’s temporary resting place shall be at Evergreen Memorial Park in McMinnville. In accordance with his final wishes, he will be repatriated to Italy, where he will have his final resting place in Sulmona next to his mother, father and brothers.

A celebration of life event shall be announced at a later date.

For a dedication, please use this link: www.macyandson.com

Thank you for your thoughts and kind words.

He will be greatly missed.

Comments

Sponge

Al was a gifted and down-to-earth guy. As a family friend, he always welcomed us warmly at his restaurant, but then, he did that to everybody. His minestrone soup was unforgettable. So is he. Rest In Peace my friend.