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Vidonis get tribute for 5 decades at Venice Inn

May 18, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

by Joe Crocetta / staff photographer

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Vidoni's tribute

The four children of Venice Inn founder Ettore Vidoni Sunday received tribute after tribute, including recognition from the Pope.

About 275 friends and admirers stuffed the Grand Ballroom of the Ramada Inn in Hagerstown to pay homage to a family that built and nurtured one of the town's most recognizable businesses over the last five decades.

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In April, the Vidonis sold their hotel and restaurant for $8.5 million.

"I just appreciate to see you come out and show loyalty to the Vidonis," said Richard Vidoni, 59, choking back tears. "I don't know what else to say. I'm overwhelmed. I love you all."

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Richard, his brother, mother and two sisters sat on a stage as they were presented with certificates of appreciation from dignitaries who were present, including U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, R-Md., and others who were not.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening, Comptroller Louis Goldstein and former governor William Donald Schaefer sent statements as well.

The family also got a letter from Baltimore Archbishop William Cardinal Keeler and an "Apostolic Blessing" from Pope John Paul II.

Betty M. Smith, who helped organize Sunday's tribute, said she and the Rev. George Limmer, pastor of St. Mary's Catholic Church, contacted Archbishop Agostino Cacciavillan, the Vatican's apostolic pro-nuncio in Washington, D.C.

Cacciavillan said such a tribute is normally reserved for Catholics who celebrate 50 years of marriage or those who have performed an extraordinary amount of work on behalf of the church, according to Smith. Nonetheless, the paperwork cleared in about a week, she said.

"They all came through - including the Pope," Smith said.

Among those who paid tribute to the Vidonis on Sunday was Ramada Inn owner Frank Turner, who offered his hotel for the party. He also offered the family use of his Hilton Head, S.C., vacation home so they can "enjoy their retirement."

For more than four decades, his hotel, just down Dual Highway from the Venice, competed with the Vidonis.

"But they were friendly competitors. We worked well together," said Turner, adding that the establishments loaned kitchen supplies, tables, chairs and other items to each other.

Joseph O'Neill, who proposed the idea for a tribute, said he met the family during the 1950s when he was a traveling salesman for the National Brewing Co. After he bought Antietam Beverage Inc. in 1960 and moved to Washington County, he said the relationship deepened.

"They were very kind and appreciative of your business. They always acknowledged you when you came in," he said.

Mike Callas, who owns Callas Contractors, recalled that a major expansion of the hotel begun in 1958 was his company's first project. He said the two businesses shared the same accountant and bank.

The Venice began as a dream of a young Italian immigrant who came to the United States from a village near Venice, the famed city of canals that inspired the hotel's name.

After working in a quarry, a produce business and as a truck driver, Ettore Vidoni finally settled on his version of the American dream. He opened a restaurant in his two-story brick house on the corner of Cleveland Avenue and Dual Highway.

Over the years, the family added motel rooms and later built a hotel.

Callas said Sunday's program was meant to recognize those achievements, "and to send them out in style."

Vidoni's children recalled the Venice was very much a family business.

"We were still in high school when we started and we did everything in the business," said daughter Dolores Poffenberger, 66. "We had no employees - and no experience."

If the outpouring of gratitude well-wishers displayed on Sunday is any indication, they compensated for lack of experience.

"That's going to be the hardest thing for all of us. Some of these people we may never see again," said daughter Marta Fenton, 51.

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