Making this area his home gave homes to many others

June 26, 2005|by MARLO BARNHART

Editor's note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail will run "A Life Remembered." The story will take a look back - through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others - at a member of the community who died recently. Today's "A Life Remembered" is about Frederick Cialli, who died June 12 at age 78. His obituary appeared in the June 19 edition of The Herald-Mail.

Even though Alzheimer's disease had robbed Frederick "Fred" Cialli of his ability to communicate fully with family and friends, he still was able to get through to them on occasion.

Daughter Marji's wedding day on April 16 was just such an occasion. Fred looked up into her eyes and hummed the first few notes of the traditional wedding march to show he knew what day it was.

"We decided to have the ceremony at Somerford so Daddy could see it," Marji said of the day she became Mrs. Terry Gearhart. Less than two months later, Fred Cialli died at 78 at the assisted living home in Hagerstown he had called home since 2003.


A relative newcomer to the area, Fred contributed his boundless energy, his career as an educator and his time to other communities before he and his wife, Shirlianne, relocated to Washington County 18 years ago.

In that time, the couple co-founded the Washington County Habitat for Humanity chapter and actively worked with the group that now has built 22 homes that are housing 72 people.

Fred also was active at Hagerstown Community College, St. John's Episcopal Church in Hagerstown and Community Action Council.

"Dad took early retirement at age 50, and he and Mom left Montgomery County (Md.)," Marji said. "They wanted to become active volunteers - they were very much a team."

Initially, Fred and Shirlianne lived in Berkeley Springs, W.Va., where they had kept a summer home along the Cacapon River. There, Fred co-founded the Morgan County Emergency Assistance Team, which still is helping families meet their needs.

Born in New York City of immigrant parents, Fred began a quest to further his education via the GI Bill of Rights following his U.S. Army service in Italy during World War II.

While an undergraduate at West Virginia University, he met his future wife, and together, they began living out their dream.

"Our mom said Dad was a real miracle - he made a lot out of his life," daughter Maribeth Smith said. Maribeth and her brother, Fred Cialli Jr., live in Texas, while Marji has called Hagerstown home since 1999.

After earning an advanced degree at the University of Maryland, Fred taught in Allegany County, counseled, then moved into roles as principal and supervisor in schools in Montgomery County.

Once he put his education career behind him, Fred felt pulled to become involved in the Habitat movement, Marji said.

"He and Mom felt fortunate that they could scrape together enough money to have a home," Marji said.

The Ciallis hooked up with Mike and Jan Dreisbach in the early 1990s to start the Habitat for Humanity chapter in Washington County so others could enjoy homeownership.

At about the same time, Fred contracted cancer, but Marji said that didn't slow her father, let alone stop him. He beat the disease and continued to spend his time and energy on volunteering.

In 1997, Fred was tested for Alzheimer's disease when clues began to surface. The diagnosis was confirmed two years later, and Marji moved to Hagerstown from California to help out.

"Dad fought it hard," Marji said.

Fred started labeling everything, writing down names of family and friends so he wouldn't forget them. He also made endless notes until he couldn't write anymore.

At Somerford, Fred won the hearts of everyone with his upbeat attitude.

"They saw the good and the bad and they still loved him and cared for him," Maribeth said.

Just four days after Fred's death, Shirlianne was surprised with the news that the next Habitat for Humanity house built by women in Washington County will be dedicated to her.

"The ceremony had been planned before Dad died," Marji said. "It was beautiful and very helpful for Mom, who insisted we go on with it."

Four years ago, a Habitat home similarly was dedicated to Fred.

As a tribute, the Cialli family is establishing a foundation with two goals - to provide grant money for continuing education for professional caregivers and to establish assistance for family caregivers who could use a break from providing round-the-clock care for Alzheimer's patients at home.

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