Two Inwood businessmen — Mario Giuseppe Romanelli and David Hance — will be honored for their community contributions at the annual Inwood Civic Association Citizen of the Year dinner at the Inwood Country Club on Saturday.
Born in Italy in 1931, Romanelli, 87, is a citizen of that country as well as the U.S. His father was a coal miner in West Virginia before fighting in World War I. He has lived in Inwood since 1965, when he moved his company, Associated Marble Inc., to West End Avenue.
Hance, 49, moved to Inwood in 1991 after spending the first half of his life in Far Rockaway. “I was born and raised just a few miles to the south,” he said. “In essence I’ve only lived, like, three miles from where I was born my whole life.”
After moving to Connecticut from Italy in 1949, Romanelli took English classes when he wasn’t working. He recalled seeing the word “sale” on signs at store after store, and in Italian sale means salt. “I was thinking, wow, what is it with these people and salt before someone explained it to me,” he said through a few chuckles.
He and his cousin, Angelo Seganti, founded Associated Marble in 1964, in Queens, before moving to Inwood the following year. Romanelli credited his cousin several times, saying that nothing they have done — including extensive charitable work with the civic association; Our Lady of Good Counsel Church, also in Inwood; and local Italian heritage clubs — would have been possible without him.
Romanelli takes pride in helping his community, quoting John F. Kennedy: “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Over the years, he said, Associated Marble has hired students who dropped out of Lawrence High School and taught them a trade, likely keeping them from being involved in illegal activities. “You have to work hard, though,” he said. “Five days a week, seven if you have to.”
Hance owns New York Contracting Services, a trucking company in Inwood, and County Auto Repair Inc., on Burnside Avenue in Lawrence, and is a co-owner of Meserole Five Towns Funeral Home. He also owns a drag racing team, New York Motor Sports — a passion he inherited from his older brothers, who worked in auto repair. “The engine bug bit me,” he said.
As his dog, Rocky, played a game of keep-away with a reindeer chew toy, Hance explained why he loves Inwood. “The diversity, the friendship, the camaraderie,” he said. “Especially during [Hurricane] Sandy, everyone pitched in, everyone needed something, so we all help each other out … just the community feel, the small-town feel.”
Our Lady of Good Counsel and the other Catholic churches in the Five Towns, St. Joachim’s in Cedarhurst, and St. Joseph’s in Hewlett, have all received some sort of assistance from Hance. In addition to his work for the civic association, he is an active member of the Inwood Republican Club and serves as president of the Inwood-based Sons of Italy Leonardo da Vinci Lodge 2385. “We help out any way we can,” he said.
Despite all that, Hance emphasized that he wasn’t sure he belonged in the company of some of the past nominees, but he felt honored by the recognition. “I got a text message — I was working and I just saw ‘Inwood honoree,’ but I didn’t fully read it,” he said. “I responded back, ‘Do the same thing as last year,’” he added, referring to his annual purchase of a full-page congratulatory ad in the event’s program every year. “And they wrote back, no, we’re asking you to be one of the honorees. And that’s when it hit … I’m just honored.”
Hance and Romanelli both expressed their gratitude for being recognized, and said they were looking forward to seeing the community gather at the dinner. “It’s nice for the people of Inwood to come together for the night,” said Vickie Mauro, president of the civic association. “To see our community, and all the organizations have a chance to gather together. It’s just nice to see everyone get together in one room.”