Port Norris Legends

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Legends of Port Norris

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Louis P. Dagastine

Louis P. Dagastine
August 1, 1904 - July 22, 1992

Louis P. Dagastine was born on August 1, 1904 in a large apartment house on Little Italy Road (now known as Strawberry Avenue) across from the Old Galiyano Farm. He was the third of ten children born to Pasquale (Jimmy Big Head) and Maria (Mary) Siciliano Dagastine. We have been told there were sixteen children born to the family, but only ten survived. Lou had five brothers: Tony, Les, Sam, John, and Joe and four sisters: Helen (Phil), Elizabeth (Liv), Frances and Angelina (Lena)

Anyone who knew Lou personally can remember Lou having the knack of being a great story teller. If he were here today, he would enjoy telling his life’s story, so I think it only appropriate to share in his words parts of what Uncle Lou wrote to us in his memoirs of our family history.

After four children (Phil, Lou, Elizabeth and Frances) were born, the family moved to a home built on the family farm about a half mile northwest of Parsons Lane. I can remember the day we moved. I was told in later years that I was over two years old, would be three the next August. But I remember very well the doings of the moving day. The day before we moved, my sister Elizabeth who was fourteen months younger than I we were in the side yard playing when we were frightened by a large monster coming down the road. It was strange looking and making a funny noise. There were several people sitting and standing on it. Elizabeth started screaming.

Mother stuck her head out the window trying to comfort us as this huge monster went down the road by our house. It was (learned later) an automobile, the very first one that had ever been in the area. Brothers Les, Sam, John and Joe were born at the house on Parsons Lane. That would be our house until April 1916. That is when the family moved to a larger home back on Little Italy Road which became the Dagastine homestead. My sister Lena was born at the house we now call home.

I should note that at some point, Lou changed the name of Little Italy Road to Strawberry Avenue.

Now before we go any further there is something I am leaving out. That is how the name D’Ausgotino became the present name Dagastine. When I started to school, I was the only little Italian boy in the school. Well little Italian boys at that time were not so popular. So as I went to school a year or so, and learned to write, I started the changing of the name. I took out the apostrophe and changed the U to an A. Later I took the O off the end and put in an E, then later changed the O to an A and that completed the change to Dagastine.

In 1924 we built a can house across the street from the homestead. We canned tomatoes, string beans and kieffer pears. We shipped our first railroad carload of canned tomatoes in August 1925, to Alfred Lowery & Bro. in Philadelphia. They were canned under the Montco Label.

In 1926 we got a telephone line run up to the homestead, so then we had telephone, but no electric yet. Then in 1928 after a lot of trouble we had the electric company run an electric line up to the can house.

In 1926 we opened up a movie house opposite the bank building, it was known as the NUJOY Theatre. We showed silent pictures from 1926 thru 1929, then sound pictures came. We then had what we called Talkies. Then in 1932 the depression came, things went bad. In 1933 the banks closed, most business houses went out of business. Dad passed away May 10, 1935. In 1936 we closed up the Theatre and in 1937 we closed the can house.

In the meantime, during 1935, we started trucking with one little old Chevrolet truck. We struggled hard for several years,* then came WWII. We bought more trucks and then our trucking business grew on

*Side note: I can remember his brother Les telling us that when they would drive the truck out west to Chicago, the winters were so cold and they had no heated trucks, they would take smudge pots and put them inside the cab of the truck to keep warm. Grandmom would make them onion sandwiches for food. Les said that one time the truck broke down and they repaired it on the side of the street. The owner of a nearby business allowed them to sleep in the cellar of his building for the night. They remembered seeing rats run around the room. Now that’s what I call struggling to keep going. They were a resilient family.

In 1939 we opened a coal yard in town where the new town hall is now, by the railroad trucks. In 1947 we opened the Friendly service station and went from the coal yard to the Heating oil business.

In 1941, Lou worked in the company’s front office and became president of Dagastine’s Transfer. The trucking business continued to expand, hauling truckloads of seafood weekly to destinations as far west as Omaha Nebraska. In the spring and summer months during the 50’s and early 60’s, local produce as well as salt hay was transported by the trucking firm. Trucks also hauled sand for a period of time. After the oyster disease struck, clams became the main commodity to be trucked.

Dagastine’s Transfer also owned a number of school buses which transported Commercial Township students to both the township elementary schools and to Millville High School. The trucking and bus companies were a large part of the community for over 50 years, employing many local residents.

Lou was a devout member of St. Anthony’s Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Name Society. He was also well known in the community as an active civic leader.

In 1927, he started the Port Norris Social Club, which later became the Port Norris Civic Club. He was one of the club members instrumental in having a monument honoring veterans erected on Memorial Avenue. Lou was a charter member and past president of the Port Norris Rotary Club which was founded in 1945. He was a member of the first local Mosquito Control Board. In 1968 he was appointed to the Cumberland County Housing Authority. Lou was one of the original members of the Commercial Township Planning Board since January 1974. He also served as a member of the local chapter of the March of Dimes. In his weekly news column, Jerry Alden recognized Lou as “Mr. Port Norris”.

As active as Lou was, he found time for his favorite pastime, gardening. He enjoyed sharing the fruits of his labor with family, friends and neighbors. Lou took pride in his garden and yard. He had a loyalty to Buick automobiles, owning many during his lifetime.

For many years, Lou and his wife, Elizabeth enjoyed bowling. Traveling both here and abroad to visit Elizabeth’s family in Germany and his parent’s homeland of Reggio di Sabri in the province of Calabria in southern Italy was very special for Lou. Throughout the years of his life, he traveled for the business, including the annual oyster convention making many new lifelong friends along the way.

Lou came from humble beginnings and he never forgot his roots, showing tremendous pride for his Italian heritage. When the movie “The Godfather” was released, Uncle Lou was very upset because he felt it did not represent the typical Italian-American family. A charitable person, he knew no strangers and was always willing to lend a helping hand and he treated everyone with respect. Lou was loyal and dedicated to his family, friends, religion and community. In fact, he continued to serve his community right up to minutes before his passing. He was found stricken in his car just after he left a planning board meeting, leaving this community twenty-five years ago on July 22, 1992.

After his passing, the Port Norris Rotary Club established the Louis P. Dagastine Scholarship in memory of his outstanding civic service and dedication to the well-being of the community in which he lived. Quoting from the scholarship description, “Civic responsibilities are not done for, nor do they provide, monetary reward. However, helping neighbors and community can bring great personal satisfaction and reward”. What a tribute to a man who exemplified this virtue.

Our family has so many fond memories of “Uncle Lou” both as a family member and a working community member. One such memory is of him in his office, sitting at his old fashioned manual typewriter, hitting the keyboard with just his two pointer fingers. To us he was more like a grandfather than an uncle. We were so fortunate growing up to have experienced the rare opportunity of seeing our uncle on a daily basis for so many years. He has inspired in each of us the desire to continue in his footsteps, to follow by example, loving both his family and his fellow man. A true gentleman, he would be so humbly proud to be honored as a Port Norris legend today.

– Mary Linda Lacotte

Louis P. Dagastine
Lou Dagastine - Lena & Charles Hanby wedding

Louis P. Dagastine
Lou in yard with old pickup 1958

Louis P. Dagastine
Lou with basket of yams


Legends Dinner 2017

Louis P. Dagastine
Family of late 20th Century Legend Louis P. Dagastine
Ginny Campbell, PNHS Membership Chair presents to Mary Linda Lacotte and
family for her Uncle.

 

Louis P. Dagastine
Family of late 20th Century Legend Louis P. Dagastine