March 23, 2003
By Betty Barnacle
San Jose Mercury News
When Joseph Albanese, a lifelong San Josean, died of kidney failure March 7, three days after he buried his wife, Rose, their large extended family reeled from the double sorrow.
But then the relatives started wondering whether they should have expected anything else. As much as possible, the couple always did everything together and maybe that was why both died at age 85.
``They were married 59 years -- a real love story,'' said their son, John. ``Three or four years ago, doctors said Dad was going to die from bad kidneys. We thought he'd go first.''
But Mrs. Albanese, a longtime community worker who had been in failing health for years, died Feb. 26 of congestive heart failure. Mr. Albanese stoically went through the funeral services for his wife, but the family believes he finally succumbed to his illness because his self-appointed job of caring for Mrs. Albanese was finished.
``Either that or Mom, who always was pretty persuasive, probably told God, `This is not paradise without Joe,' '' their son said.
The couple met when Mr. Albanese, who'd been signed by the Detroit Tigers, was playing minor league baseball with the Tacoma Tigers. Rose Colombini, a Washington native, introduced herself to the young pitcher after the game. They were married in 1943 when Mr. Albanese was in the Army.
He'd been drafted to serve his country about the same time he got a contract to play the 1941 season with the San Francisco Seals in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, a step closer to the major leagues. After the war, however, he never went back to baseball, except to watch it or coach Little League teams.
``He felt at 29 he was too old and that he'd been away from the game too long,'' his son said.
In the war, Mr. Albanese received two Purple Hearts, the Silver Star, and the Army commendation medal for valor for saving the lives of two soldiers, his son said.
The youngest of six children, Mr. Albanese was a year old when his father died, leaving his family in poverty. The Jesuit priests at Holy Family Church, the family parish, saw to it that the Albanese children attended St. Joseph's Grammar School and the church pastor gave little Joe his first baseball glove, encouraging him to develop an obvious aptitude for the game.
Mr. Albanese graduated from Bellarmine College Preparatory, the first in his family to finish high school, and went on to study at Santa Clara University for two years. He played both baseball and football, but excelled at pitching.
Mr. Albanese's favorite baseball story was from his semi-pro days when he struck out Babe Ruth and got two hits off Satchel Paige. It was in the 1930s, and the big leaguers came to the old Sodality Park at San Carlos Street and Bird Avenue as part of a national winter tour to earn a living until baseball resumed in the spring.
Mr. Albanese said he only got his bragging rights because Ruth and he became friends the night before the game, drinking beer in a San Jose tavern, and Paige had ordered his infield to sit down whenever Mr. Albanese, the opposing pitcher, came up to bat.
A co-founder of the Bronco Bench Foundation at Santa Clara University in 1960, Mr. Albanese and his son are the only father-son duo to be inducted into Bellarmine's hall of fame. Bellarmine gave the entire Albanese family its President's Club Award in 2000, and Mr. Albanese received the Ignatius Award from Santa Clara University in 1986.
Mr. Albanese started Joseph J. Albanese Cement Contractors on Parker Street in Santa Clara in 1955. The firm, now incorporated, is run by his son and employs 500.
Said his son John: ``Dad started the business with family values of integrity, honesty and quality, and included his workers as family.''
Joseph J. Albanese.
Born: June 18, 1917 in San Jose..
Died: March 7, 2003 in San Jose.
Survived by: His children, John Albanese of San Jose and Mary Jo Riehl of Sacramento; sister Florence Varchetto of San Jose; brother Ted Albanese of San Jose; seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Services: Have been held.
Memorial: Donations may be made in Mr. Albanese's name to the Santa Clara University Alumni Family Scholarship Endowment Fund; the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, 132 Howe Ave., Suite 110, Sacramento, Calif., 95825; or Bellarmine College Preparatory, 960 W. Hedding St., San Jose, Calif., 95126-1215.