A Poem by Gini Wharton | July 23, 2017
There she stood. Marie, more beautiful than ever, waiting patiently.
Surrounded by handsome dogs, their black hair gleaming in the golden sun.
And, then he crossed the Rainbow Bridge. A man named Dante, strong and sure.
The long wait was over. Reunited, they held hands and walked,
with the handsome dogs, to the land of forever.
We are One.
Children of the stars.
Black, white, brown,
yellow, red, and pink.
The universe, Earth, and Mars.
We are One
The teddy bear we love.
The tree, and the twig we break.
The flowers we pick,
And, the rock we kick.
We are One
Sister fox, brother ox.
The land, the ocean, the sky.
Creatures that fly, and those that swim,
And those that creep.
FAMILY NOTE: Tom Ventresca’s significant other is Gini Wharton. Recently, Gini sent the above poem entitled : “One” to us after reading how much Dad was inspired by nature. Enjoy!
Instead of Holy Cards, we created five Memorial Bookmarks to honor Dad that were available at his Mass of Resurrection and the Reception at 4460 after Mass. Each bookmark has a literary quote with an image on the front and a photograph of Dad on the back with a prayer or song lyric that define him. The first bookmark pictured above is based on A.A. Milne’s “Pooh” stories and the Peace Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi. Dante, as both a father and a teacher, read A.A.Milne’s stories and poems to his children and students. I never asked him which story and poem was his favorite. I wish that I had. So many wonderful selections to consider. Dante read THE HOUSE AT POOH CORNER, Chapter X: “IN WHICH Christopher Robin and Pooh Come to an Enchanted Place, and We Leave Them There” at his first Grandchild’s, Matthew Christopher Ventresca, funeral in May of 1992. To this day, I don’t know how he got through the story without breaking down. The day that my Dad died, being pressed for time and anxious, I was trying to quickly find the story about Piglet doing a “Very Grand Thing,” but I couldn’t find that one. So, I settled for WINNIE-THE-POOH Chapter IX: IN WHICH Piglet Is Entirely Surrounded by Water.” It was the right one. Dad spent his last hour listening to a story that he had read to us so many times. Though quiet and drifting, I think that Dad was listening, and his face was relaxed and content. Our Father and Mother loved literature, and taught us to love reading too. Bookmark I tries to capture Dante’s love for “Pooh, Piglet, Christopher Robin, and all the animal character’s in Milne’s THE WORLD OF POOH, who truly capture all the types of humanity! The photo of Dad was taken around 1942 when the war was over, and he was newly married, a proud Papa, and had so much of life ahead of him. We selected the prayer because Dad, like Francis of Assisi, was a Man of Peace. They were both humans who embraced nature, loved humans and all creatures, saw the beauty even in weeds and rocks, loved animals, and wrote poems. Sweet Peace, Sweet Papa.
“Dante Linné Ventresca. Also known as Honey, Daddy, Dad, Pops, Pap, Papaw, Papa, Mr. V, Uncle Dante, and Dear Old Dad.
Eight years ago at Thanksgiving we all received a card under our plate at the dinner table. It read: “I am thankful for” and we were to reflect and record our blessings. On his card Pap wrote in his distinctive wonderful handwriting: “I am thankful for love, companionship, happiness, nature, air, photosynthesis, long life, a healthy body, etc….”
Dad’s life was about relationships: with our mother Marie Charlotte Rudd, their eleven children, their family, his students, his colleagues, his friends, his neighbors, his doggies. Also his relationship with science, truth, beauty, and nature.
Dad’s father Francesco Ventresca was born in Italy, his mother Florence Olson was first generation Swedish. They named their only son after Dante Alighieri the Italian poet and Carl Linnaeus the Swedish botanist who classified plants in the 18th century. Pops would love books and flowers and plants all his life. I once asked him what his favorite color was. “Yellow” he said. And your favorite flower I asked. “Now that I could not say” he said, “they are all beautiful.” As long as he went on walks which was well into his nineties, he would have a small magnifying glass on a string around his neck so he could examine the neighborhood flowers. Our father saw beauty and goodness everywhere. He was a lover. He saw no lines that separated people. He saw beyond national boundaries, beyond gender, ethnicity, religion. He saw no difference between a flower and a weed. All living things were good.
He was studying at the University of Illinois when Pearl Harbor was attacked and the United States entered World War 2. He would serve in the Army from 8/11/42 to 4/14/46. He met Mother while stationed at Camp Breckenridge Kentucky. When they married in 1944 the Italian POWs that he was guarding at the camp made them a wedding cake. After his discharge he finished his undergraduate studies at Evansville College. He worked at Mead Johnson for awhile. Went back and got his teacher’s certificate. Taught at Marian College, Shortridge and Howe High Schools in Indianapolis. Along the way he and Marie had eleven children.
At Shortridge and Howe he taught biology, botany, and chemistry. He loved his students. In the Fall he took them to Holliday Park for Nature Walks to study the trees and the leaves. In the Spring the students were assigned to compose a notebook of local flowers that they were to draw and identify. He spent many hours reviewing their work, grading and commenting on their endeavors. At Shortridge Dad served as the Junior Class Sponsor assisting with Junior Vaudeville. He loved it all. He would tell us about the kids and what they were up to. A band called Frenchie and the Oui Ouis always got my attention. Once when he and Mother were chaperoning a Prom at the Indiana Roof in May 1968 a group of the Kennedy clan in town campaigning for Robert Kennedy in the Indiana Primary stopped by to chat. His notoriety was his famous walking on the chalk board. How he did it, we do not know, but we have pictures. He would have the kids do a drum roll on their desks and he would run in from the hall, jump on the chalk board and walk it. His theory was, you gotta get the kids’ attention first, and this was one of his ways. He encouraged all of his own children to become teachers. His advice was, say hello and smile at the kids, get to know the janitors. He had a strong sense of social justice, walking the picket line twice for higher teachers’ salaries. He said it was tough after the strike between those who struck and those who did not, but they all survived, and they all got salary increases, substantial ones too. One of Dad’s colleagues once said :”I’ve heard that Mr V. has eleven children, but from what I can see he has thousands.”
He was an amazing Dad. Very hands on with all of us. He taught us how to tell time, tie our shoelaces, write a check, drive a car, play tennis and ping pong. He taught us how to tell the truth, question authority, stand for justice, be inclusive, be kind, and have fun. He read us Winnie the Pooh, played Big Band Music, went on a crusade to save old stereos and vinyl records. He and Mother loved to travel. In 1958 they took us to Michigan, where Dad studied at the University of Michigan Botanical Annex in Pellston. He had us jumping on bogs, studying the different conifers, seeing how the glaciers formed the Great North Woods. In 1960 they took us to Washington DC on the train. Dad woke us up at 4:30 AM as we passed Harper’s Ferry West Virginia telling us there was a very important battle fought there connected with the Civil War. In 1963, 64, and 70 he studied at the University of California Berkeley on a National Science Foundation Grant. He told us about the cyclotron that split the atom there, took us one evening to hear a physicist speak. And we would see all the beauty that is this country from Indiana to California on those road trips. He and Mother got to know shopkeepers along the way. We would visit the National Parks. Bryce and Zion in Utah, the Redwood Forests in California. And all along the way we were accompanied by the best music of the day. Dad’s love for music underscored our lives.
Also memorable for us were some of Dad’s sayings: like, “Always keep the fermenters going” which I assume came from his days in the lab at the U of I, or maybe at Meads. Meaning I think just keep moving forward, just keep going. He also said when things were distressful: “It was a tense moment at the bridge”. And once when I naively was ready to do what a person in authority had suggested I do, which was wrong, his comment was :”What kind of morons have I raised?”
Our parents met in 1943 when they were in their twenties. Pictures taken at the time show how happy they were. In their almost 69 years of marriage, they were separated only once for a lengthy period of time. That was in 1957 when Dad was teaching at Marian College here and Mother stayed in Evansville with the eight children. He would drive from Indianapolis back to Evansville every Friday night after classes were done for the week. He brought us candy bars as a treat which we all loved. Sunday afternoon he would head back to Indianapolis while Mother and the children waved from the porch and cried. It was definitely not as much fun when Dad was not around and we missed him so. When living in Evansville they went out on dates Tuesdays and Fridays. In Brownsburg (where we moved in 1958) they took long rides on country roads that would eventually disappear as Eagle Creek Reservoir was developed. In Indianapolis (where we moved in 1966) they drove to the Dairy Queen in Carmel, or went to Knobby’s for a roast beef sandwich. They never stopped holding hands. The pictures of Mother’s last several years show her confined to bed and Dad right there holding her hand. After Mother’s death in 2013 it was very hard on Dad, but he told us he wanted to live and so we all carried on as best we could with a sense of joy and gratitude for almost four years.
As a veteran he used the GI Bill to complete college. And in his later years he got the few medications he needed from the VA. He needed to see Dr. Bolla at VAMC Indy once a year to qualify for the program. She could not believe his age and how well he was doing. She wanted to know his secret. I told her: “It’s Hubbard and Cravens coffee and scones in the morning, beer and chips at night, and lots of chocolate in between.” “I would not change a thing” she said.
Dad was not a Catholic when he met Mother, but he agreed to raise the kids Catholic when they married, and several years later while we were still in Evansville he converted and was baptized. But Dad’s spirituality was less formal religion and much more mystical. He saw God in all living things, in creation, in nature. He saw God as Beauty and Love and Connection. And this God sustained him his whole life thru. Several days before he died, when he was bedridden and saying very little, Annie heard him say “They just would not understand”. We think he was already starting to see the other side of this life. He died on a Sunday afternoon in his bed with his children around him and some saying they loved him over the phone from California. He just very quietly slipped away. He had told us some years ago at a family meeting about what the parents would want upon their deaths that all he wanted was for us to love each other. I assured him just before he left that we would do just that and take care of the doggies too.
Dante Linne Ventresca, we are so proud of you, we salute you, we thank you, and most of all we love you.
Dad, we know that Mother is here with you today. Dante, Pops, Papaw, this Mass, this celebration is for you.”
~Marie Elizabeth (Mimi) Ventresca Author Summer 2017
The Eulogy was delivered by Mimi and Dante Christopher Ventresca on Sunday, November 19, 2017 at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Indianapolis, IN around 3:00 in the afternoon during Dante Linné Ventresca’s Mass of Resurrection; Celebrant Father James Farrell.