Remembering Lou Santella

Lou Santella died today in Florida.

Lou Santella

We’ve lost more than a great, gregarious Westporter.  And we’ve lost more than a beloved barber.  For years Lou was the unofficial mayor of Saugatuck.  As that storied part of town races toward redevelopment — his old Riverside Barber Shop is already closed — we’ve lost one more important link to our past.

Years ago, I wrote a “Woog’s World” column on Saugatuck.  The idea wasn’t mine; it was Lou’s.  We were talking at the Italian Festival, and he said, “You never write anything about Saugatuck.”

He was right.

He said that Saugatuck is “the real Westport — the soul of the town.”  He offered to give me a tour.  I jumped at the chance.

We started, fittingly, in his barber shop.  Gesturing broadly — with his big hands — Lou said, “No matter where they live, people from here consider Saugatuck home.”

Without pausing to think, Lou rattled off a list of families.  There were judges, policemen, teachers, contractors, firemen, restaurant owners, and everything in between.

Capasse.   Anastasia.  Luciano.  Cribari.  Giunta.  Caruso.  D’Aiuto.  Dorta.  Romano.  De Mattio.  Arciola.  De Mace.  D’Amico.  Manere.  Capuano.  Arcudi.  Melillo.  Rubino.  Caputo.  Tiberio.  Bottone.   Nazzaro.  Saviano.  Reitano.  Valiante.  Tedesco.  Gilbertie.  Nistico.

Those were his people.  We got in his big car, so he could show me his world.

Lou drove up Charles Street, where St. Anthony’s Festival once reigned every summer.  He pointed to a nondescript building.  Tucked away under the roof was a statue of Saugatuck’s patron saint.  “As far as my mother was concerned, Jesus works for St. Anthony,” Lou joked.

On Franklin Street Lou described the grape arbors, plum trees and beautiful gardens of years gone by.

Then he motioned to a parking lot.  “The house I was born in used to be here,” Lou said.  “And over there was a little grocery store.  My uncle owned it.  You could get anything there.”

Lou Santella and his wife Marge.

Every few yards brought a new story:  how the Nisticos founded the original Arrow restaurant, on the corner of Franklin and Saugatuck.  The pub that sat where Dunville’s is now.  The devastation I-95 caused when it was built.  “People had to move,” Lou noted.  “Not far, but out.”

On Saugatuck, near the Exit 17 northbound ramp, I gazed right past a green plot of land.  “I used to live there too,” Lou said quietly.

We turned onto the oddly named Dr. Gillette Circle, but I didn’t even have to ask.  “They built this when the highway came through,” Lou said.  “A lot of these houses were moved here.  Dr. Gillette was our doctor.  He was a very special man.”

And so it went.  I saw a bank branch office; Lou saw the wooden row houses that once stood there, and the fireworks that always made the firemen work overtime.  I stared at the unsightly Charles Street office complex; Lou described the store it replaced, owned by Joe Arcudi’s father.  And Luciano Park — well, it’s been in Saugatuck even longer than Lou (though the name dates “only” to the late ’60s), but Lou remembers the bocce courts there.

Our tour ended back at Lou’s barber shop.  Across the street, he explained, was the old Sons of Italy hall, and a cable grip factory.

“This is the heart and soul of Westport,” Lou repeated.  “I’m so proud I grew up here.  No doubt about it.”

I’m so proud to have taken that tour.  I’m so proud to have known Lou, to have called him a friend, and to have been able to describe his Saugatuck — in his own words, far more eloquent than mine — to the rest of Westport.

Lou’s death is more than a loss to Saugatuck, and the entire town.  It’s the end of an era we will never see again.

Grazie, Lou Santella.  Grazie.

38 responses to “Remembering Lou Santella

  1. I am so sorry to hear about the passing of this huge great man. He made so much possible. Anybody that knew him will never forget him. He was a great asset to the town and everyone in it. Our condolences go out to his family. Rest in peace my friend.

    • Alyse Santella

      Lou Santella was my grandfather. I felt so awful to have lost him only when I was nine years old. When I got the news, I was so sad I thought that I would forget him. Then I remembered all the fun and nice things my grandpa had done for me. He took us out for ice cream at Nicomas Groves in Sarasota Florida, he took us to Sarasota Jungle Gardens to see the animals there. He was a very special man to me and probably everyone else who knew him. He enjoyed me too. Once my grandpa got a new iMac computer and didn’t know how to use it. I showed him how to and he told me that I was his favorite granddaughter ever. When I heard about his passing, my family went to dinner at Chuck’s Steakhouse, a place that we know he would enjoy. We did a bunch of things in honor of my grandfather. But mostly, we sat together and cried. And just let me say, I will never ever forget Lou Santella.
      -Alyse Santella

  2. Sad to hear about Mr. Santella’s passing. When we came home from the barber someone would always ask “Old Guy or Young Guy.” Lou was the Young Guy, and that is how he will be remembered.

  3. Barbara Wiederecht

    I took my son Christopher to Lou for his first haircut when he was 2 years old. Keeping a 2 year old still during a haircut was no small feat. Lou was able to accomplish this was by singing him a song from Barney, the then popular purple dinosaur. Rest in peace Lou.

  4. John is right. I always had the same experience: old guy or young guy. Such a vivid childhood memory. The sounds. The smells. The comic books. I stuck with the Santellas (always going with my father) until the disco era hit, I became a teenager, and I decided I needed “styling” rather than a haircut. You know, Dan, sometimes your blog is painfully elegiac!

  5. Nice job Dan. Lou took care of three generations of Eason men. He was a good friend of the family. I will miss him alot.

  6. I met Lou the first day I moved to Westport, and went for a haircut. He and his family have been great friends with my family ever since. We had a chance to see and speak with him prior to him going into the hospital, so we feel blessed to have had that opportunity. We will all miss the great man who was Mr.Westport in our minds, and I have lost a dear friend.

  7. I met the Santellas a very long time ago through the CCD program at Assumption church. They taught a class on marriage and love, something that was far from my mind at the time since I was only in high school. But I remember being surprised how much I enjoyed that class and being around them in their home. They handled a sensitive subject so well, not easy to do with a bunch of teenagers. After that, whenever I saw them, they always made a point to say hello. I’ve heard much about Lou from my sister and father. He will be terribly missed. My condolences to his family.

  8. Megan (Acquino) Restieri

    My Heart goes out to the Santella Family! I have so many great memories of Lou, going back as far as I can remember. He was a great guy with a big heart! We’ll miss you Lou!

  9. Robert A. Petrosini

    Lou was one of the first people I met when moving to Westport with my family in 86′. He was such a kind and caring man who we were very fortunate to not only call our barber, but also our friend. He was a man who loved the town of Westport and would doing anything for it as he would for anyone. He will never be forgotten. My love goes out to Mrs. Santella and the rest of the family. A great man is now in great hands.

  10. May the road rise to meet you,
    May the wind be always at your back.
    May the sun shine warm upon your face,
    The rains fall soft upon your fields.
    And until we meet again,
    May God hold you in the palm of his hand.

    May God be with you and bless you:
    May you see your children’s children.
    May you be poor in misfortune,
    Rich in blessings.
    May you know nothing but happiness
    From this day forward.

    May the road rise up to meet you
    May the wind be always at your back
    May the warm rays of sun fall upon your home
    And may the hand of a friend always be near.

    May green be the grass you walk on,
    May blue be the skies above you,
    May pure be the joys that surround you,
    May true be the hearts that love you.

  11. Louis Santella was my uncle. Marie(Santella) Parke was his sister. Uncle Louie was the most genuine person I knew in addition to my own father. What you saw underneath his rugged jaw was a remarkedly gentle soul. He treated everyone he met with such dignity and respect,regardless of social status. His heart was much bigger and stronger than any disease could conquer. His smile and humour were infectious. The light in his eyes shone on everyone he came in contact with. Our lives have been made much richer, more joyful and that much more meaningful because he was and always be intwined in our hearts, minds and souls. We all now have a guardian angel protecting us. My thoughts and prayers are with his family.

  12. Lou cut hair for 3 generations of guys in our family, and I think the record was 5 gen. He was a master of the “boy’s first haircut”. I know I was not the only one who came home (1000+ miles) on college break to get a trim.
    More than one Selectman had his number on speed-dial…
    He was already missed when he moved to Fla, and I’m sure his passing will be well noted by those who knew him as we did.

  13. Art and Suse Marciano

    Our family was deeply saddened to hear of losing our dear friend Lou Santella. We knew him since the sixties, when our boys went to nursery school together. Now we will always remember his wonderful personality which made our days brighter.He is to be admired for his many contributions to loving friends and the entire Westport community.

  14. Larry Stannard & Jane Rickel

    I only knew Lou for a couple of years and wish it could have been many more years. Jane has known him and Marge for many years and he will be missed by us both dearly.

  15. David Anastasia

    I heard about this a couple hours ago. Lou was always a part of my family. He and my father go way back. The market in the article above was the Franklin Market, we lived right next door. The barber shop and Saugatuck was such a part of growing up for me. I am so sorry to hear about Lou’s passing. He was always very kind to me, and many times offered me some words of wisdom. I lost my dad this past year, and I’ll bet anything they are both together now. My prayers go out to his family.

  16. Frances Valiant St. Amand

    Rest in peace Lou—Condolences to your family.
    You will be greatly missed by many, who you
    have touched during your life time.

    Fran Valiante St. Amand

  17. Frances Valiant St. Amand

    My prayers go out to your family

  18. Charles Bradley

    Lou and I were classmates together At Staples
    Lou a year ahead. I cannot ever remember Lou being Angry over anything, all though there things that should
    have. Lou will be missed by many, and my and Linda’s condolences and prayers go out to Marge, and all her family.

  19. Wendy Duffy Rende

    My Dad worked at Gault’s and we always got to walk down to Franny’s and to see Lou. He always has a smile for us and seemed so big to us. As I grew older I realized how big his heart really was. He will be missed by all. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family

  20. Uncle Lou and Aunt Marge, my godparents and my parents’ best friends from Wesport. My Dad and Uncle Lou had some stories to tell. While I did not grow-up near Uncle Lou and Aunt Marge, they were never far from me because when I was 3 years old, they sent me a stuffed, blue, bunny rabbit for my birthday and for years Hoppy went with me everywhere. In fact, I still have him in my hope chest. They never missed my birthday, they never missed an important event in my life. In fact, the night before I was born, they took my parents out to dinner, Italian, of course, and Uncle Lou proclaimed that I would be Italian by osmosis. And his words have come true, for all of my favorite foods, singers, and friends are Italian. I am partners in an Italian restaurant in “Jersey” and I am to some families in the neighborhood, “the consigliari”, the one who listens, laughs, loves and provides advice- just like my Uncle Lou knew I would be.
    Thank you for remembering him so eloquently and graciously, because as I remember him he was a man of humor, humility and grace.

  21. I am so fortunate to have known Lou Santella. His love of family, his love of Westport, and his care for others are just three of him many fine traits. He always reminded me of my father. I am deeply saddened by his passing. Marge – our entire family has you in our thoughts.

  22. Our family has only known Lou for 43 years and we also had 3 generations of haircuts done by Lou. Lou’s barber shop was a safe haven, where Lou knew everyone’s name and Lou was glad you came.
    The past 15 years, we came to be good friends of Lou and Marge, not only in Westport, but also here in Florida where we along with Lou and Marge spend our winters. So many times we shared what was common to us ie., our Italian background, Italian food, music, jokes, holidays, and what food we prepared for the holidays, special dishes, like meat and spinach pies at Easter and oh so much fish Christmas eve and of course desserts: but then what else do Italians talk about except food! It’s the Italian way. My conversations with Lou always brought me back to my childhood, which was so special to both of us. When ever, Lou and Marge came for dinner, I always had to have the Italian music blarring and a wooden spoon in my hand for the gravy.

    Here in Florida Lou and Marge, every year planned a Westport Reunion, which started with
    friends that Lou graduated with from Staples High School. My husband and I were always invited, inspite of the fact we did not graduate from Staples. What a wonderful time everyone had, another Lou and Marge event, with of course Italian food, yummy.
    Dare I mention politics, why not! My husband and Lou were of different political parties. What fun to listen to them bantering back and forth. Or a morning call from Lou asking my husband, what was his party trying to get away with now. Never did these two men cross the line to anger. These men were gentlemen, and for Marge and I it was laughable to listen.

    Everyonce and awhile, one meets a big man, not big in size, but big in heart, generosity, understanding, kindness, his values, consideration,
    gentleness, and on and on.
    How blessed we were to know this man and for us to call Lou and Marge our friends.

    I will listen for Lou, I can hear the click of his scissors now!

    love you Lou and Marge, with blessings and hugs, Ann & Don

  23. I believe Louie had a nickname that some knew him by as the Big Clipper.

    I can remember it like yesterday when my father finally gave up giving haircuts ( Marine Corps buzzcuts) in 1968 to my brother and I for reasons that would take too long to explain in this limited space. My first haircut at Riverside I ended up withe the “old guy”, Lou’s father John and my brother got clipped by the “big guy”.
    I had the pleasure of knowing Louie through a number of different ways, as a customer , through Festival Italiano, as a fellow parishoner at Assumption Church, and as a friend. There may be a few natives laround that remember Lou as an umpire in Little League down at Gault Field.
    The Santella family has my hearfelt sympathy and thanks for sharing Louie with this town that he loved .

  24. Dan, I have to admit to becoming a little misty-eyed as I read this. If it’s now time for a eulogy for the Saugatuck of our ’50s and ’60s youth, this obit for Mr. Santella (I still can’t call him “Lou” nor could I call his dad “John” — old guy/young guy) and your piece on Mr. Melillo fit the bill. Grazie, Dan. Fade to a chorus of dirty-faced little Saugatuck kids singing the Saugatuck School song, the final stanza of which contains the phrase, “the boys and girls of Saugatuck will loyal be to thee.” Mr. Santella was right: wherever we go, Saugatuck is home.

  25. Donna Michetti

    It sadden me to hear about the passing of Mr. Santella….what a great man he was!! My family and I have had the pleasure of knowing him for over 20 years. He wasn’t only the “baber” that my dad and brother went to, or the face of the Italian Festival….he was a man that everyone loved and wanted to be around! My thoughts and prayers are with Mrs. Santella and the entire Santella family at this tough time. Mr. Santella will be missed, but never forgotten!

  26. It was a different sort of town back in 1969 when I began my teaching career in Norwalk and rented a house on old mill beach during the school season for $300(split four ways). We couldn’t afford the summer rates and dispersed to other accommodations. Like many I found my way to Lou Santella’s barbershop for the monthly buzz but what was always special was the chance to chat about sports, politics and local news. In 1974 as I was planning my wedding , it naturally came up as a topic of conversation. He asked me where I was planning to live and of course I had no clue. “Why don’t you check out my brother-in-laws house over on Wakeman Place?, he suggested. Lou’s brother-in -law, Andy Grega , who owned the hair salon next to him needed more space for his family of four and was selling this little four room house. The cathedral ceiling in the living room with a blazing fire going sold a couple of neophytes on the house and thirty-six years later we are still there in this very special part of town. In later years I was part of a tennis group that included Lou and it was always a pleasure to be in his company. The passion he had for Westport and what he did to revive the Italian Festival into such a successful fun and funding raising event for this community is a true testimonial to his joy for living and giving back to a place he loved to call home.

  27. Ronnie and Bob Estony

    Lou and Marge filled our hearts with joy. We have been family since she knocked on our door with brownies. Marge and Lou were up on the hill, they watched for lights on our street, it has been a love commitment to each of our families. God has been good to us and we will always share a deep love for Michal, Lou and Mark and their families. Lou, you made our life complete. Marge we continue to love and share with you. We mourn with you and continue to love with you.
    Love and Prayers
    Ronnie and Bob

  28. It is so amazing to see how many lives my Grandpa has touched. I have so many great memories with him such as squirt gun fights in the basement, sitting in a pull-out chair in the living room at the house in Connecticut eating raisins pretending I was going to feed him them then quickly eating them myself, and going to the barbershop and getting Tootsie Pops and Bazooka Bubblegum. These little memories i will hold dear for the rest of my life. When the family all got together it didn’t matter where we ate, as long as we were together. For the two years or so Grandpa loved the fact that McDonald’s ice cream was only $1.89.. and was always excited to go get it. Expensive things didn’t matter. These little things such as numbers never required me to tell myself to remember them; they just stayed in my head. The little things are what matter most. The time i spent with him on Thanksgiving was so memorable and I am glad i got to spend it with him and my Grandma in Florida. Before I left for my flight back home I wrote each of my Grandparents a note. I told him how much I love him and how much he means to me, and to stay strong. I told my Grandma that I know it is hard for her to stay strong and that I was (and still am) someone for her to talk to anytime she needs, and that I know her love for him is so strong. I am so glad I wrote this note to him and the last words of my conversation to him always were “I love you Grandpa”. The love my Grandparents shared cannot be duplicated. My Grandma and Grandpa called each other babe, hugged,danced and joked around; such as teasing Grandma about how she kept the house too cold when Grandpa would be sitting right in the current of the air conditioning vent covered in a blanket!) I just know their love grew stronger everyday. The relationship they shared is something that I will always remember and would love to strive for when I am married in the future. Grandpa you will always be a part of me and in my heart, and I am so lucky to have been your granddaughter. ♥

    “Death is not the end, it is only a bridge to another place.”

    Wherever you may be, I know you are watching over Grandma and the family, and this is not goodbye because you will be in my thoughts everyday just as you always have been.

    I miss you.
    I love you so much Grandpa.

  29. My family and I have known Lou and Marge for what seems like forever. My lifetime anyway. Sledding on their hill as a child with the gang….the Estony’s, Gilbertie’s, Richard’s, and Michael, Mark, and Louie. Getting my haircut for my wedding…Lou said “let’s not cut it too short, you don’t want it to look like you just got a haircut”. Inspiring my dad (no small feat) to join the Sons of Italy, manage the ticket booth year after year, and travel to Italy with my mom, Lou, Marge, the Estony’s, the Lucci’s, Chip and Evelyn. It changed my dad’s life. Lou laughed when telling me that he was jealous of my mom on the plane as she swung her legs from the seat when he had his knees in his chest. He was a big guy with a bigger heart. We are all better people for knowing Lou. He always showed a deep fondness for my parents and the feeling was very mutual. Lou was a dear friend to many, and family to my parents.
    Thank you Lou! Thank you Marge!
    My prayers, thoughts, love, and appreciation will always be with you both.

  30. Lou Santella took on my cowlicks pretty much exclusively, from the day in 1966 that my parents moved into town, fresh transplants from Chicago. From that point on he kept me trimmed, clipped and presentable until approximately 1981 and then with lessening frequency as I moved on to other barber’s chairs in other places.

    At first, of course, my Mom accompanied me on these grooming appointments, but in time, she set out the leash and I was left to dictate my own preferences, prompted to tell the nice man, “a trim, short on top and the sides, please.” I did get confused once by the choice of available stylists and found myself in the chair close to the window, the one “old guy”, Lou’s Dad, worked. I am remembering now that I found the conversation, as an 8 year old, reasonably difficult…with Old Guy Santella is was “solo Italiano.” I hate to admit it even now, but I fretted over hurting “old guy’s” feelings until “Young Guy” Santella let me know, it was fine to ask to wait until he was done and then I’d be next.

    Somewhere buried deep in my garage is a photo of an acapella Quartet I sang with at Staples, the four of us framed by the Riverside Barber Shop signage and leaning up against the pole. That was towards the end of my tenure in his chair, after the passing of the years of early communion with Archie and Casper comics, the minutes which seemed hours, waiting and watching the bustle outside on a Saugatuck sidewalk in all seasons, the train station humming close by, shaving foam and the bottles of tonics bracing the mirror glass. To pass the time, often itchy and uncomfortable, I would find it irresistible to stare dizzily into the spinning red and white stripes of the iconic barber pole at the door hypnotically rotating and renewing, the booster seat gone, sitting under the neck fastened gown all the while waiting for the Bazooka Bubble Gum pressed into my hand at the register.

    Even as Young Guy became Older Guy and I was gone, first to college and then back less and less to town, Lou stayed in family conversation as my father availed himself of the Santella shears, at first intermittently and then in time as a Regular, during those years he tried to adjust to a post-commuter lifestyle.

    By the early ‘90s, besides having much less hair to clip, I had married and moved to California. A freak car accident suffered by my mother brought my wife and I hurriedly back to Westport. Having just seen my mother for the first time in ICU, the two of us with my father riding slowly and without speaking in an elevator at Norwalk Hospital, looked up as the elevator doors parted at a floor which we had not chosen. No one left the elevator or entered and in the polite way of elevators, the doors stayed open for some period of time during which I realized that the man staring at my father and I was Lou Santella.

    We had but a short moment to acknowledge familiarity, with of course no time to speak or explain our situations with words as the doors pulled together again. But despite our somber faces, I believe I did manage a half smile or a look approximating fond recognition, and received equally with some strange sense of knowingness in his eyes too. I never found out why he was there, though I’m sure my father must have found out the next time he went in for a trim. I never asked.

    That moment back in the elevator, however, stays with me vivid, strange and mysterious, this premonitory, even haunting visitation from my childhood as my mother lay strung up to IV’s battling for her life, my father shaken and silent by my side. My wife turned to me and asked, “Who was that?” I told her, “That was Lou the Barber, he probably knows me better than anyone in this town.”

  31. I met Lou just about 15 years ago. We had met his son, Mike, the previous year when he came to our house to visit our daughter. My husband was surprised to discover that this was the Mike about whom he had heard many stories from his barber, Lou Santella. And not only stories about Mike but his other brothers, too! I was not to meet Lou and Marge until the next year just two weeks before our two children were married. We came away from dinner that night with such positive feelings for our children’s future because of Lou and Marge. What a loving couple they were, with such a strong feeling for family! We will miss Lou but will remember him through our beautiful shared grandchildren and our son-in-law, Mike who has brought such a gift to our family.

  32. Alex Ackemann

    Lou was a tremendous man. Gave me my first non-bowl haircut back in the mid-1980s, when he’d offer a piece of Bazooka on the way out. To date, he’s the only barber I’ve ever looked forward to seeing, and that had nothing to do with the Bazooka. A gentle man with a kind soul. He certainly will be missed.

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  34. Will Santella

    This is in memory of my grandfather.

    My grandfather was the center of my family.
    Through all the times I needed you, you were there. When I visited your house, you made me feel at home. Marge was lucky to have you.

    As I walk along the street, I see you in my mind.
    You wouldn’t know how much I loved you.
    When I lost you, I thought it was the end.
    Like a lonely tree, I waited to be cut down by the ax of misery.
    I will always remember you.

    -Will

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