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Kinsey, 'Mr. Rocco,' took pleasure in serving others

July 03, 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 Leon Gail Kinsey, who died June 24 at the age of 79. His obituary appeared in the June 26 edition of The Herald-Mail.

marlob@herald-mail.com

Reading through the many cards sent after the death of her father, Diana Kinsey Hoffman said one in particular sort of summed up the impact that Leon G. Kinsey had on the lives of many people he encountered during his 79 years.

Leon, who died June 24, owned Rocco's Restaurant in Hagerstown for 23 years and was known as "Mr. Rocco" to many.

"The card was from a man who said he was just 11 years old when he first met dad," Diana said. "He said in the card that he was dirty and hungry, and dad brought him into the restaurant and fed him."

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That boy grew up and now is a mechanic who lives in Pennsylvania, Diana said, estimating he probably is in his 30s.

"He still comes in - he loves the meatballs," Diana said.

As she looked back at her father's life, Diana said she would describe him as a person who helped a lot of people, one person at a time.

"People came here and dad just took them in," she said.

An example of that is Tommy McKee, who has worked at the restaurant since 1988, when he was just 18.

"A friend told dad about Tommy, and dad put him into an apartment and helped him get a job," Diana said. "Dad encouraged Tommy and he has stayed with us all these years."

McKee said Leon was a great influence in his life.

"He gave me a start, and I have come a long way since then," McKee said.

Diana, who has owned the restaurant at 501 Liberty St. since 1998, said loyalty still is a big factor, thanks to her father.

"We have second-generation employees and many third-generation customers at Rocco's," Diana said. "Kids would turn over the place mats and draw pictures for my dad."

The youngest of seven children, Leon was pampered by his older sisters, two of whom survive him. At an early age, Leon loved to help people, taking many young people under his wing over the years.

"Dad put kids up at the YMCA, helped them get jobs and brought them here to the restaurant to eat," Diana said. Many of them grew up, had families of their own and kept in touch through the years.

Leon worked for 26 years for National Cash Register, bought the restaurant in 1975 and worked both jobs for a couple of years.

Rocco's Restaurant had begun in 1936 when Italian immigrants Rocco and Frances Zappacosta opened a little basement tavern on Liberty Street. Frances did the cooking and Rocco served until they sold the business to Mike and Stella Young in 1947.

With no Italian heritage of their own, Leon and his first wife, Lillian, took on the challenge of keeping Rocco's customers happy.

"Mom stayed in the kitchen - she always said she was a good cook with a good recipe," Diana said.

Through the years, Leon taught his family and his employees several golden rules that he expected them to live by.

"'Please and thank you will get you most anything,' dad would always say," Diana said.

His children and family times always were important to him, and Diana said it was a rule that she and her sister, Patricia, and their brothers, Brian and Ronald, were to be at the dinner table by 5:05 p.m.

"It was a command performance," Diana said.

Leon told the restaurant employees he "paid for both hands" and "I don't pay mileage." The first expression meant they were to use both hands when carrying orders to the tables, while the second meant no employee should be empty-handed, either going to or away from a table.

Clothes were cleaned and pressed and manners always were expected, Diana said. That isn't the only thing that will continue.

Following her father's habit, Diana said the restaurant will be closed for the next two weeks.

"He did it every year so all the employees could vacation at the same time with their families," Diana said.

With Leon's daughter at the helm now, that tradition will continue along with his reputation for good food, good service and good company at Rocco's Restaurant.

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