By JOHN GORALSKI
Jennie (Marciniec) Urillo, a former owner of the Step Saver and Southington Observer newspapers, died on Monday, Nov. 16 at Hartford HealthCare at Bradley Memorial Hospital in Southington. She was 92.
Urillo was a co-founder of the Step Saver, a weekly shopper, in April of 1963, along with her husband Anthony Urillo, who died in 2012 after 57 years of marriage.
Launched from their home, the firm quickly grew into one of the most respected publishing companies in the region. At its height, the Step Saver reached over 64,000 homes and businesses with four editions in Southington, Bristol-Terryville, Cheshire, and Plainville-Farmington.
After a number of years in downtown Southington, The Step Saver moved to its current 17,000-square-foot headquarters on Spring Street in 1971. Approximately 50 individuals presently work for the company.
The couple’s next project, the Southington Observer, was founded on Dec. 3, 1975 after the continuous publishing of a weekly newspaper in Southington was halted after more than 100 years. The Observer, published each Thursday since Dec. 3, 1975, had a circulation of more than 6,000 when the Urillos sold the enterprise to Maitland Publishing in July of 2000 with Robert J. Urillo continuing for a time as president of The Step Saver, Inc.
Former Observer editor Art Secondo credits Jennie as a key part of the paper’s success.
“She was such a kind woman, and everybody really loved her. She was always my comfort zone,” he said. “She was from the old school. She would always ask about your family and how you were doing. She would ask if you liked your work. She really made you feel like she really, really cared about her employees.”
Urillo was born in Southington on June 24, 1923 to the late Jan and Stefania (Plachno) Marciniec. She was a lifelong Southington resident and a member of the Immaculate Conception Church. She graduated as essayist from Lewis High School in 1941 and was one of the first women of her generation to graduate from college.
She attended The Sargent College of Allied Health at Boston University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in physical education with a certificate in physical therapy. This led to a career as a physical therapist at Newington Children’s Hospital and several hospitals throughout the United States.
She worked primarily with children afflicted with polio.
Once she co-founded the Step Saver, she became the backbone of the operation, working diligently to ensure the timeliness of the publications, all while raising seven children. Her daughters, Stephanie Urillo, DDS, Susan Urillo Larson, Mary Urillo, Marta Urillo, and Angela Moore and her sons, Anthony J. Urillo and Robert Urillo, all served in some capacity with the newspaper.
“What really made her happy is that she was able to have her whole family under one roof at the Observer,” Secondo said. “She really liked that. It wasn’t only her and her husband. She was surrounded by her daughters and her sons. It was a real family business.”
Along with her husband, she encouraged employees and family to become involved in the community as long as it didn’t interfere with coverage, and many former editors and reporters continue to serve the town in various roles. Her daughter, Stephanie, served on the Southington Town Council until stepping down this fall.
Noreen Thompson, a Step Saver employee since 1981, said that Urillo was always a mentor, particularly to the women in the office.
“She was always well-liked in the office, and she was a great role model for the women because she worked so hard all her life and raised seven children,” Thompson said. “She was a beautiful person, and family was always the most important.”
Her husband was often seen as the front man, but she was an equal partner when it came to Southington news. He was the strong businessman, while Jennie became known as the heart of the paper.
“One thing I’ll always remember was her sweet, kind smile. She never had a grumpy look on her face. She was always the welcoming and inviting person,” said Secondo. “Every now and then, she would pop in and ask me if I heard about something or other in town. She was always making sure that I knew what was going on in town, especially with the social items.”
In addition to her children, she is survived by her grandchildren, Erica Larson, Heather, Jacob, and Sarah Lautman, Isabelle, Gianfranco and Anthony Palumbo, Samuel Moore, and Zachary Urillo. She is also survived by many nieces and nephews.
Besides her husband, she was predeceased by her brothers, Stanley and Walter F. Marciniec.
Calling hours will be held at Plantsville Funeral Home, 975 South Main St., Plantsville, on Friday, Nov. 20 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Funeral services will be held at 9 a.m. on Saturday from the Plantsville Funeral Home to a Mass of Christian Burial at the Immaculate Conception Church, 130 Summer St., Plantsville.
Memorial donations may be made to St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, 501 St. Jude Place, Memphis, TN 38105; Shriners Hospitals for Children, Office of Development, 2900 Rocky Point Dr., Tampa, FL 33607; or to the Connecticut Children’s Foundation Inc., 282 Washington Street, Hartford, CT 06106.
For online condolences and directions, please visit www.plantsvillefuneralhome.com.