By HEATHER LARSON POYNER
Editor’s note: Each Monday, the Kenosha News takes a look at the life of a Kenosha County resident who recently died. We share with you, through the memories of family and friends, a life remembered.
The most important thing for Tony Santelli was building relationships: in his family, for work and in his community.
He did this largely through thoughtful acts and gestures: taking kringle to office staff at his children’s school, planning parties for family members and supporting Kenosha’s firefighters.
“Many times he would come to fires with water and Gatorade; after a fire he’d be bringing pizza to the station for the guys,” said his brother, Guy Santelli, division chief of Fire Prevention based at Station 4.
“He was always thinking of the firemen. He was ‘Johnny on the spot’ helping them,” said Tony’s mother, Gemma Santelli.
“His generosity didn’t have any boundaries,” said his wife, Jen Santelli.
Anthony L. “Tony” Santelli, 42, of Kenosha, died March 17 at Froedtert Hospital in Wauwatosa. Surviving are his wife, Jennifer; his children, Julia and Joseph; his mother, Gemma Santelli; brothers, Sammy (Mary Jo) Santelli, Paul (Debbie) Santelli, Timothy (Anna) Santelli and Guy II (Anna) Santelli; his in-laws, Michael and Linda Strunk; a brother-in-law, Jeff (Carolynn) Strunk; and nieces and nephews.
Tony was born Sept. 21, 1976, in Kenosha to Guy and Gemma Santelli. He attended local schools and studied business and marketing at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, graduating in 1998.
At Parkside, Tony met native Kenoshan Jennifer Strunk, and they began dating. Jen said she was captivated by Tony’s “larger-than-life” personality.
They married on Sept. 9, 2000, and settled in Kenosha.
Dedicated to work
As an undergrad, Tony worked at Happenings Magazine and as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens. After graduation he worked at Walgreens’ corporate headquarters in Deerfield, Ill.
“He climbed the ladder, starting as an electronic data coordinator and becoming divisional merchandise manager,” Jen said. In this capacity, Tony helped launch new products for the company.
Taking the expertise he had honed at Walgreens, in 2017 Tony went to work for DowellGroup, a sales and marketing firm.
Although the company is based in Pennsylvania, Tony was able to telecommute from his Kenosha home.
“After commuting to Illinois for so long, this was a nice change for him and the family,” Jen said.
With DowellGroup, he connected product manufacturers and retailers.
“For him it was all about building relationships,” Jen said. “He wanted success for both ends of the spectrum.”
The job at DowellGroup was “where his heart was,” she said.
Love of community
But Tony’s heart was also full-on for his family and the Kenosha community.
When tornadoes struck Kenosha County in January 2009, Tony brought pizza to northside fire stations and burgers to the scene, said Guy.
For several years he served as division marshal for the Civic Veterans Parade.
“The legacy of being a lifelong Kenoshan was very important to him,” Jen said.
He was a member of St. Joseph Catholic Academy Athletic Association, for which he ran the concession stands at sporting events.
His daughter, Julia, age 12, said her dad often recruited her and her brother to help set up concession stands at basketball and football games.
“We had many adventures while driving to Tremper and Bradford to do concessions,” added Joey, age 9.
Tony also enjoyed bidding at the school’s fundraising auctions, twice winning the prize to act as honorary principal for a day.
“He got pizza for all of the students and had us do a fire drill,” Joey said.
“That’s because he wanted to pull the fire alarm,” Jen added.
Tony also supported the school in other ways, noted Jen.
“He organized SJCA’s Lower Campus’ first ever mother-son event last year, recruiting only dads to help because he strongly believed that the moms at the school should not have to coordinate or work the event,” she said.
Dedicated to family
When it came to celebrating family, Tony was always at the head of the line.
“He was all about event planning for every birthday and holiday,” Jen said.
Gemma said Tony designed a knitting-themed party for her 80th birthday because she loves to knit.
“Each table had a ball of yarn and knitting needles,” she said.
“(In January) he was already planning my next birthday party,” Julia said. “I had to tell him, ‘Slow down! It’s not until December!’”
“He was kindhearted and always thinking about other people before himself,” Guy said.
Tony’s selfless actions continued after he was diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic neuroendocrine cancer in 2015.
“He would come back from (St. Joe’s) football games at 2 a.m.,” Julia said. “He just wouldn’t stop.”
“But he didn’t dismiss his health needs,” Jen said. “He wanted to be around for as long as he could.”
Tony underwent treatment to treat his cancer but did not partake in clinical trials. The disease was stabilized for a while.
Addressing an audience at Bradford High School last year, Tony said support of family and friends had been the most important factors during his journey.
“It doesn’t have to be a disease or a condition; we all go through different things,” he said. “The best advice I have is to be understanding, compassionate and supportive.”