When you come downtown from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on the night of Cruisin’ MainStreet … Remember Friday Nights May 20, you may walk by Ronald Reagan Rock at the corner of the Ronald Reagan Drive section of Central Avenue where it meets Bellevue Avenue.
As the 1950s music plays in the air, and the classic cars roll down the street and park along the town’s main drag and N. Egg Harbor Road, you’ll see a woman dressed in ‘50s clothes there—white button-down shirt, jeans and a scarf around her neck.
Her name is Angela Donio. She has been the chair of the event since its inception 28 years ago. She’ll be smiling as those cars fill in the streets of the downtown she loves, in the town she loves, making it look like it did on Friday nights in the 1950s, when she was a teenager.
She is a large reason for the success of downtown Hammonton.
I’m proud to say Angela Donio is my mother.
It’s long been my opinion that the reason my mom succeeds at the causes she puts her mind to can be boiled down to three simple words: love, encouragement and commitment.
These are the cornerstones of how she interacts with all of us in her immediate family: with love, with encouragement and with commitment.
Growing up, if I needed her support, she was there with her love. If there were projects or pursuits I wanted to engage in, she was encouraging. If the road was bumpy, had twists and turns or took a unexpected detour, her commitment never wavered.
I was thinking about these traits of hers, and how there were many examples of how she has exhibited them in my life this past Sunday, Mother’s Day. Of course I thought of the personal side of my mother, and the strong life force and personality she has always had.
Then I thought: Those are exactly the same traits she brings to all of her religious, civic and business causes. She has always been sincerely dedicated to them; her goals always focusing on uplifting, making things better for the good of the whole.
When she took on downtown revitalization decades ago, she wasn’t alone, but she was certainly in the minority. She and her favorite aunt, Juliet Falciani, had a vision for the core of the community that wouldn’t simply beautify it—it would make it the heart of Hammonton’s civic life and a center for business and residential buildings as well.
That goal has largely been achieved, and every step along the way, you’d better believe that my mother has done it with love, encouragement and commitment.
During the decades, we have heard a lot about the “town fathers” and I take nothing away from them and their accomplishments.
And yet, with Mother’s Day just behind us, it is an excellent time to think of “town mothers” like Angela Donio, who pour everything they have into their families and their communities. She is not alone in doing it. We all know women whose hearts are linked to the families, causes and town they love.
They all give of themselves and their precious time because as mothers they know that what they want more than anything is to create a safe, welcoming, outstanding place for their children to call home. The birders have a name for it: “nesting.”
I remember coming home from school each afternoon during the school year, and my grandmother, Ida Bilazzo, would be in the kitchen, helping my mother get dinner ready. Three generations of us. It was almost taken for granted that we had a professional cooking for us. My grandmother and grandfather had owned their own restaurant, Chateau Bilaz, on the White Horse Pike in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the favorites from their menu would make it to our plates for dinner. Yes, including the salad.
It occurs to me now that we were fortunate to have our grandmother cooking those meals that people had enjoyed at the restaurant for us at home.
It was an even greater blessing to have the love, encouragement and commitment that her daughter, our mother, Angela Donio always gave to the town given to us as her family every day.
I consider it nourishment for the body and soul. Happy belated Mother’s Day to my mom and all the town’s mothers—and “town mothers.” I hope I’ll see everyone at Cruisin’ MainStreet downtown on May 20.
Gabriel J. Donio is the publisher of The Hammonton Gazette.