Editor’s note: Each Monday, the Kenosha News takes a look at the life of a Kenosha County resident who has recently died. We share with you, through the memories of family and friends, a life remembered.
It takes a village to help tell Renato Castiglia’s story.
In part because there is much to tell; Renato himself was an epic storyteller.
“He had great delivery and inflection; he could accentuate and punctuate,” said longtime family friend Frank Pacetti.
“When he started a story, he always said, ‘I’ll make it short, I’ll make it short,’ but it was never short,” said Renato’s wife, Ann.
During his 89 years, Renato enjoyed many activities and skills, including golfing, constructing large-scale nativity sets and committing history facts to memory.
“He had a command of world history that was second to none,” Frank said. “No matter what the given situation, he could pull out a fact about any time period.”
“He was a marvelous man for me,” Ann said. “He was a very smart man who knew his history.”
He loved his friends and good food.
“He enjoyed big steaks, stuffed olives and telling his favorite stories,” said longtime family friend Agnes Battellini.
“He loved his cognac and lasagna,” added Jenny Pacetti, Frank’s wife.
Renato G. Castiglia, 89, Kenosha, died Sept. 30 at his residence. Surviving him are his wife, Ann; a daughter, Renee (Brian) Watring; a son, Brian Castiglia; and three grandchildren.
Born in Italy
Renato’s first village was Cosenza, Italy where he was born on Sept. 21, 1930, in Cosenza to David and Laura Castiglia. He was educated in the schools of Italy and served in the Italian Army. After attending military school in Bologna, he served two years as first lieutenant.
Ann said Renato considered a military career, but chose civil engineering instead. After attaining a degree, he began working as a civil engineer in Italy.
Renato met Ann Caracciola at a dance in 1956 when she, her mother and her sister were visiting family in Italy.
They began dating, and Renato soon proposed to Ann. “I went back to the U.S. to think about it,” she said. Two years later, she returned to Consenza, and they married in July 1958.
After their honeymoon, Ann returned to Kenosha while Renato’s immigration paperwork was finalized, and in 1959, he joined her.
“I didn’t want to live in Italy, so he gave up a pampered lifestyle and family in Italy to be with me,” Ann said.
‘The Three Musketeers’
Renato got a job at G. LeBlanc Corp., where he worked for the next 41 years cleaning and repairing instruments and eventually becoming a supervisor.
His spare time was spent with family, friends and hobbies.
Two of his best friends were Angelo Battellini and Emil Pacetti. They worked together and golfed together. When Angelo took an extra part-time job fixing instruments at a music store in Libertyville, Ill., all three took jobs there.
“They were the Three Musketeers,” said Frank, Emil’s son.
The three also got into golf at the same time, Frank said. “After a full day of work, they’d go to Twin Lakes Country Club. They’d play Twilight Golf — 42 or 48 holes. It was, ‘Golf ‘til you drop or can’t see the ball anymore.’”
Renato also spent time at Emil’s downtown music store, sometimes helping to repair clarinets.
“Renato was one of the greatest men I knew (along with my dad and Angelo),” Frank said. “He was always the clever one who played innocent little tricks. His practical jokes were cerebral.”
Renato was a bit self-conscious of his native accent when speaking English, but his Italian was impeccable, Frank said. “He spoke beautiful Italian and lost every trace of his (Calabrese) dialect.”
“His storytelling was mostly in English with Italian parts thrown in,” Dave said.
“About every seven or eight words would be Italian,” added Angelo.
After he learned English, Renato did translation work for the friars in Marytown, a former monastic community located on Kenosha’s far south side.
Following traditions of his homeland, each year before Christmas Renato constructed elaborate nativity scenes known as “presepio” in Italian; sometimes for his home, sometimes for the windows of downtown storefronts or church schools.
“They did this in Italy because they didn’t have Christmas trees,” Ann said.
“The nativity scenes started out on tabletops and then took over the basement,” said Renato’s son, Dave.
In a 1996 Kenosha News feature, Renato said, “This is like some form of devotion. For me, it’s going back to my childhood, when my mother made a nativity set every year.”
Wintertime was also ski-time for Renato. He learned to ski in Italy and kept it up until he was 83, both downhill and cross-country.
“One day there was so much snow in Kenosha that he put on his cross-country skis and went through the streets to visit neighbors,” Frank said.
‘Three millions’ and spartan lifestyle
As a father, Renato was a hard worker who provided his family everything they needed, Dave said.
He was good-natured, but also “good at barking orders,” Dave said. “He would get mad but then laugh about it afterwards.”
“He was a very big part of my life,” said granddaughter Rebecca Watring. “He called his three grandchildren his ‘three millions,’ and liked to say, ‘I am a rich man because I have my three millions.’”
Renato loved good food too. “He would tell me, ‘God bless you for your stuffed olives!’” recalled Angelo’s wife, Agnes. “He blessed me so much over the years!”
“Once he ate so much he unbuttoned his pants at the table, then put an apron on over his clothes!” recalled Angelo.
Although Renato was a great provider for his family, his own needs were spartan.
“He never bought anything for himself — except for nativity scene figurines — and never carried cash or a credit card,” Dave said.
He was also very orderly and anti-clutter. “He loved to throw things away,” Jenny said. “He’d say, ‘You only need one cup, one fork, one spoon.’”
“He was just happy with a few friends and simple things,” Dave said.