Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the last interview I had the opportunity to do face-to-face was in March. In upcoming weeks, one of the 126 weekly interviews that were previously published will be shared with readers. This article was originally published on Jan. 10, 2020
It was in 1956 that Giuseppe and Valbruna Tongiani and their two children came to live in Phoenixville. Bruno was age 6 and Marzia was age 4. They traveled from Marina Di Massa, which is located in the Tuscany region of Italy. The area is considered the Italian Riviera.
Mr. Tongiani came for a three-year assignment from an Italian firm to teach seamless pipe fitting at Phoenix Steel. He spoke no English and neither did most of those he was teaching. They spoke and learned through sign language. It must have been quite a group. Known as Jo-Jo, he started to move up the ranks with Phoenix Steel and retired there in 1983 after 27 years.
It was a good thing that his family came with him in 1956 as he never returned to his job in Italy. The Tongiani family made a comfortable life for themselves. They first lived on Dayton Street and later purchased a home on High and Fairview streets on the north side of Phoenixville and eventually moved to the west side of town.
Marzia and Bruno worked their way up through the school system offered in the area. Marzia recalled her kindergarten days with Miss Albert at the elementary school on High Street. Then on to St. Mary’s Catholic School for first grade. In 1971, she graduated from St. Pius X in Pottstown.
From 1971 through 1975, she did her undergraduate work at nearby Ursinus College in Collegeville. Marzia received her law degree from Temple in Philadelphia in May 1978. She passed the bar exam in July and was admitted to practice law in October 1978.
Marzia used to be a frequent flyer between here and Italy to visit many of her relatives who still live in the Marina Di Massa area. It is not unusual for her to fly back to Italy for a birthday party or a two-day weekend.
After getting her law degree, she was the office manager for about a year-and-a-half for a law firm. She got to thinking if she could handle an office for someone else, why not open her own office?
In 1980, she opened her office on Bridge Street near Gay Street in downtown Phoenixville. The building once housed a cigar store. For 40 years, she has worked alone — no secretary — no associate. She did her early work on a manual typewriter. She works out of the Chester and Montgomery County courthouses.
It was not until the age of 45 that she found the time to think about marriage. She met Thomas A. Mirabile, a local businessman. They married in July 1998. Marzia and Tom have no children together, but Tom had three children who produced six grandchildren.
Marzia’s dad died in 2007. Mrs. Tongiani lives with Marzia and Tom. At 97 years with Parkinson’s, she needs a lot of care. Marzia is her caregiver along with being the caregiver of anyone who needs help in the family. It is Marzia who takes care of it.
In the midst of it all, Marzia finds time to cook dinner. She likes simple and easy dishes such as:
ZUCCHINI AND TOMATO BAKE
3 to 4 green and yellow zucchini squash
2 to 3 tomatoes
seasoned bread crumbs
extra virgin olive oil
Wash and dry zucchini and cut off ends. Slice green and yellow zucchini lengthwise in ¼” strips. You will get about 4 to 5 slices per zucchini. Slice tomatoes. In a 9” x 9’ pan arrange zucchini slices and tomatoes in rows in pan by alternating two types of zucchini and tomato slices starting at one end of pan and building vertically toward the other end. Start with green zucchini, then a row of tomato slices and then yellow zucchini, and repeat until pan is full. Sprinkle generously with seasoned bread crumbs, salt to taste and drizzle with olive oil. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until zucchini are tender.
UPDATE: Marzia has learned to conduct the practice of law in a different way these days, as she was not permitted to see clients in her office for the last several months. It is nice to meet with clients face-to-face but telephone calls and emails can work wonders, at least for the preliminary consultation. There are video conferences because court offices were closed and some continue to be closed. Fortunately, her immediate family and Marzia have stayed healthy, although the entire situation continues to be disconcerting, principally because she feels we don’t know when the “end” will be. She mentions it has hit us all very hard but has given many of us the opportunity to see what we might be capable of, out of necessity, and how willing we might be to adapt. She feels the next thing will be a biblical swarm of locust. Luckily, she proclaims she has only seen a few spotted lanternflies.