By SHERIDAN CYR
Former town official and Southington business owner Francis J. Verderame Sr. died on Saturday, Feb. 24. He was remembered by residents and family during funeral services last week at the DellaVecchia Funeral Home. He was 85.
Verderame was a 20-year member of the Southington Republican Town Committee, but he had a reputation for being apolitical. “I’m really not a political person,” he told The Observer in 1987. “I judge people by the way they serve the community, not the party.”
Verderame built a reputation for being fair-minded and prudent. “I always went to him before I made any big decisions,” said James Verderame, one of Francis’ four children. “He was a mentor for everyone, and always offered help or advice.”
His son recalls that when his father was working as an insurance agent, people would often stop by the office seeking advice from Francis for situations apart from insurance questions. Francis would always lend an ear and an answer.
Verderame was the owner and president of his own agency, Southington Insurance Center – The Verderame Agency. Before that, he worked for Richard Elliott’s Insurance in Southington as an insurance agent.
To become an insurance agent, Verderame left behind his former career in the restaurant industry. In 1955 he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, and he opened a coffee shop in Plainville for six years before moving back to Southington and opening Vern’s Drive-in, known today as Saints Restaurant.
“We had the first drive-in food place on Queen Street, even before McDonald’s arrived,” he told The Observer in February 1987 when UNICO of Southington announced him as the winner of the 1986 UNICO Gold Medal. Verderame was the first father-son duo to win the award. His father, Carl P. Verderame was the 1952 UNICO Gold Medal winner.
“He had a pretty good life and a lot of experience, having worked in two major life jobs,” said son James.
Verderame was a lifelong Southington resident. He graduated from Southington High School in 1951 and served his country with the U.S. Marine Corp. He found a passion for community services and was a commissioner of the housing authority, Planning and Zoning Commission, and the Police Commission.
Verderame left the food industry in 1961 to become an insurance agent, and that helped spark his community service. Later that year, he was asked to join the housing authority, and his work included the development of the first two senior citizen complexes in town (Pulaski and Forgione-DiCaprio).
“I found those enjoyable years,” he told The Observer in 1987. “Many of the senior citizens had a rough time handling the paper work facing them in applications. It was a worthwhile feeling helping them out.”
Soon, Verderame moved on to the police commission. During his tenure as chair of the police commission, Southington’s population burgeoned from a small town into a larger community, and he served on the building committee that transitioned the police department from the Gura Building into the Holcomb School building (at the current site of Walgreens Pharmacy at 359 Main St.).
Chief John Daly thanked Verderame for his instrumental role in Daly being named as Southington’s police chief 15 years ago.
“When he was a police commissioner, he took a chance with a young guy and made me Chief,” Daly said. “He helped me to be better and to be the chief I am today.”
Daly said Verderame at times was “like a father figure,” always giving sound advice and making himself available for conversation. “I really appreciate what he did for me, for the police department, and for the community of Southington,” Daly said.
Town Manager Mark Sciota recalled Verderame’s insurance agent office being a stone’s throw from his own. He, too, referred to Verderame as a mentor.
“He would never say, ‘I don’t have time for you,’” Sciota said. “He was always available for advice and guidance. He had a lot of experience and was an unbelievable resource.”
Sciota admired Verderame’s involvement in the many community services he participated in. “He was truly a mentor, and taught me a lot about how Southington operates as a community.”
Verderame helped organize golf tournaments for the Southington Elks Club and UNICO, and he was also a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion.
Verderame was survived by his wife, Annamae (Panella) Verderame; by his children, James Verderame Sr., Robert Verderame, Francis Verderame Jr., and Patricia and Carla Mongillo, along with 14 grandchildren, Melanie, Annie, and Max Mongillo; James Jr., Daniel and Marc Verderame, Nicole and Kayla Verderame, Diana, Natalie, and Joseph Verderame, Jessica, Michael and Lauren Zita; six great grandchildren; his sisters, Madeline Brunelli and Lucille Cusano; his brother Carl P. Verderame Jr.; and many nephews, nieces and cousins.
He was predeceased by a sister, Mary Anna Annunziata; and brothers-in-law Andrew Annunziata and Paul Brunelli.
On Wednesday, Feb. 28, he was buried with military honors at St. Thomas Cemetery.