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Lillian May Terry Rodgers
b. October 23, 1928
d. December 1991
I never thought of my parents as having been historical figures in Port Norris, and maybe their role in the history of the town is minor, but their lives were truly tied to this community and they served the town in their own special way. I will share the history of both Sal and Lil, and how their lives intersected and became synonymous with Sal & Joe’s Store. Also see Sal DiGrazio
Presented by Anna De Fabrites
In 1954-55, a partnership was struck between Sal and Joe Damico. Joe’s mother, Tressa Damico, owned the large building on West Main Street, across from the Catholic Church. Joe began a mechanic’s shop in the back garage. Sal opened a general store and gas station in the front part of the building. Tressa lived upstairs. Tressa’s daughter Margaret, is the mother of Vic Hruza, who still operates the mechanic business and lives in the remainder of the building.
This is the beginning of the legacy of Sal & Joe’s.
At this point, I am going to back track to the 1920’s and the birth of my mother, Lillian May Terry Rodgers, in an effort to intertwine these two lives.`
Lillian was born on October 23, 1928 to Herschel and Lillian Riley Terry, both of Port Norris. She had a brother, Herschel, Jr. and 14 years later, a sister, Faith. Both of her parents were scout masters for many years in town. However, little Lillian, as she was called, had no desire to be involved with scouts or camping. That must have been quite a bone of contention. She attended the Port Norris Baptist church for a while, before attending the 1st United Methodist Church of Port Norris. She graduated from Port Norris high school around 1946. Mom then worked in the soda shops and restaurants in town and for the Bell Telephone Company as an operator. The details are sketchy and the time period approximate, but during the late 1940’s early 1950’s, Lillian packed up and moved to San Diego, California, to work for the phone company out there. During that time, she eloped to Tijuana, Mexico to marry a man she was dating. The amount of time she spent in California is uncertain, but the fact that she high-tailed it back to the East Coast to get away from an abusive husband is not. She was not willing to bring a child into that situation, and my brother, Mike, was born in Easton, PA on August 30, 1953. Following Mike’s birth, she returned to the area. She lived in Atlantic City and worked as a waitress at Captain Starns restaurant. My great grandmother Riley helped to care for Mike at this time. Again, the timing is unclear, but she also was drawn to return to Port Norris to raise her family. I cannot help but to be proud of the strength, independence and resiliency that my mother had, because being a single mother at this point in time could not have been easy. She persevered, worked hard and made a life for herself and Mike. She worked at one of the glass houses in Millville upon her return. She lived in one of the little Dagastine houses on what was Warren Street and then in an upstairs apartment on Main Street between Market and High.
A couple divorces later, these two lives came together. About 1961, Lil invited Sal over for dinner, and according to mom, “he just never stopped coming! Get to be about dinner time, here comes Sal!” The rest is history. I was born in 1963 and my sister, Mary, in 1967. We were the original “Modern Family”. When Sally was expecting her daughter and told daddy she was going out to buy a crib, daddy said “you better get two”!
Sal and Lil became quite a team. Sal ran the store and Lil helped, along with all the stuff she did at home. If anyone knew my mother, they would know she could do anything from cooking, sewing, cleaning to major construction work!
My parents put in a lot of time at the store. The store was open from 9 am to 9 pm, 7 days a week. It was only closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving. We were the only store in town open on Sunday, and we pray the Lord forgave us for that, because if it wasn’t for Sunday sales, I don’t know if we would have made it. Daddy would close up for a couple hours in the afternoon to eat dinner and watch Days of Our Lives in his recliner. On Friday nights, mom, Mike, Sally and others would run the store, so Sal could partake of his favorite pastime….sulky horse races! He was also known to be found at a card game or two. Mike worked at the store the most, but Mary and I put in our time, as well. All of our affinity to math came from our experience at the store.
Sal and Lil were hardworking, devoted to their customers, gave credit generously (if not graciously), provided jobs for a number of young men over the years, supported town events with donations and became well known throughout the town.
They were both characters in their own right, and numerous stories have been shared about antics at the store. Like when a gentleman named Clint, that had an affinity for spirits, spit his money out of his mouth onto the counter and daddy about when ballistic! And when daddy smacked Clint’s pocket with a billy club (why I don’t know) and broke the bottle of tiger rose. Clint proceeded to take the shattered neck off the bottle and finish the remaining contents of the wine from the shards of glass!
Then there was Maggie (a well-known figure in town), who was stealing eggs, which daddy proceeded to smash in her pocket. I also remember him jumping in the Chevy and racing 100 mph up the Dividing Creek stretch to chase down someone who tried to get away without paying for their gas! He also loved to smack his billy-club on the counter, if anyone was giving him lip.
My father passed away in August of 1980, from colon cancer. Mom kept the store going for another 6 years, until the passing of her mother. She then, very selflessly, closed the store and moved in with her father in Little Creek, Delaware, to assist him, even though her own health was poor. We lost mom in December of 1991, and our lives were never the same.
Although Sal and Lil were not big movers and shakers, didn’t accomplish much of anything newsworthy, they were household names in Port Norris. Everyone knew them. They spent over thirty years serving Port Norris families. They were always ready to help someone in need, and never pursued accounts in arrears. Mom would just say, “They must need it more than we do.” People may say why are they honoring these two rather unimportant individuals, but to us, their family, they were everything, and for that we greatly appreciate the Port Norris Historical Society giving us this opportunity. Thank you.
Sal and Lilians' family at the 2015 Legends dinner.