Small but mighty Elsie Picone is being remembered as an exceptionally dedicated member of the Dundas community who gave back more than she ever received.
Picone died Tuesday. She was in her 85th year.
Well-known for many years as the proprietor and public face of the 98-year-old Downtown Dundas business her father-in-law opened in 1915, Picone contributed to the community not only through her store but also through her parish, St. Augustine Church, as a volunteer at St. Augustine Catholic Elementary School and as a founding member of Dundas Community Services.
Over the years, many politicians visiting Dundas or Hamilton, made their way to Picone’s Fine Foods to meet Elsie – and sometimes receive one of her famous pies.
Picone was a member of the Dundas Association of Churches committee that recommended starting the Dundas Community Development Council – precursor to Dundas Community Services - and was named the organization’s first treasurer.
She held the position for 40 years – setting an incredible example of community dedication and volunteerism.
Judy Mintz, executive director of DCS, said it would be difficult to summarize Picone’s contribution and commitment to the community she called home.
“It wasn’t just about cheques and banking,” Mintz said of Picone’s role at DCS. “It was whatever we needed, any event we held. The entire Picone family contributed.”
Mintz recalled that Picone was originally named treasurer because “she had an honest face.”
She was born Elsie Morelli, on the family farm in Dundas to Anthony and Rose Morelli and lived in the Valley Town her entire life. She married Joseph Picone in 1951. They had eight children, 19 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Elsie and Joe bought the family business, Picone Fine Foods, in 1970 when it was already 55 years old.
Phyllis Kraemar, a long-time business leader in Dundas and current president of the Downtown Dundas BIA, said she learned many things just watching the diminutive, but both tough and kind community leader.
“The biggest thing was the way she made everyone feel special. It was the way she talked to people – whether they were 5 or 50. She made you feel special, because she really believed you were,” Kraemar said. “If you were in her presence for a few minutes, you learned something.”
Picone was honoured several times by her community – earning the Dundas Citizen of the Year Award, a Rotary International Paul Harris Award, the Dundas Community Services Lifetime Achievement Award and the Queen’s Jubilee Medal.
Daughter Theresa Picone said all seven of Elsie’s surviving children were with her when she died on Tuesday.
“She was a pretty strong person, and something I think we will hear from a lot of people is that she was a mentor and a pillar of strength, not just for the family but for the community as well. She was small but mighty,” said Theresa.
Picone was diagnosed with Cancer last year. She spent the past few weeks in hospital. The family had hoped to see her improve and return home.
Kraemar said Picone – along with her husband – passed on something very special to her children – a respect for and commitment to their family business, and for the community.
“She was really proud of her kids – for good reason,” Kraemar said. “The kids have pride in their business and that tradition. That comes from good parenting. That’s very special. She had high expectations of herself and her kids.”
Picone also transferred her strong work ethic along to her family.
Whenever famous chefs visited Kraemar’s store, she always took them to Picone’s Fine Foods to meet Elsie.
Hamilton city councillor Bernie Morelli was a cousin of Elsie’s. He described her last week as a “warm, kind person” and a “great Canadian.” And like anyone else remembering her this week, Morelli noted her dedication to Dundas.
“She believed in her family, her faith, and her country,” he said. “Our family is really broken up about it. She was an outstanding person. And she was a great cook. Everybody looked forward to her fantastic pies.”
During its 40th anniversary celebrations last year, Dundas Community Services established the Elsie M. Picone Community Service Award, which will be presented to a graduating high school student who has demonstrated, through leadership and volunteerism, a commitment to help make Dundas a better place to live.
Picone’s son, Mark, contributed money towards the award – and announced its establishment at the DCS anniversary gala which Picone attended.
When the community organization marked its anniversary last year, Picone recalled her first days of involvement – and why she remained committed.
“I could see the potential for this new organization as it was concerned about the quality of life in the community,” Elsie said.
A funeral is planned for Saturday morning at 9:30 a.m. at St. Augustine Catholic Church, 58 Sydenham St. in Dundas. Family and friends will be received at the Cattel, Eaton and Chambers Funeral Home, 53 Main St., Dundas, tonight, Feb. 1, 7-9 p.m. Vigil prayers will be on Friday at 8 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations to the Juravinski Hospital or St. Joseph’s Hospital would be appreciated by the family.
-with files from Kevin Werner and Debra Downey.