“A heart is not judged by how much you love;
but by how much you are loved by others.”

– L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.

Unlike the Tin Man, V. Carl Gacono didn’t need much help from The Wizard. He pretty much had both ends of the heart area covered.

Gacono was loved because he loved.

Gacono, a local business man, community activist and family man, passed away at 1:13 a.m. on Nov. 1. Surrounded by family and loved ones, Gacono died at age 90, from complications related to heart failure.

Gacono was interred at Indiantown Gap National Cemetery in a private ceremony on Nov. 8. He died a Lt. Col., receiving full military honors for a career in the United States Army, Army National Guard, and U.S. Army Reserve, the recipient of several meritorious service medals over his time in the service.

Gacono left behind an enduring legacy, including an unwavering devotion to his family and community. The town of Annville was a better place because that’s where he called home.

“By far, his greatest accomplishment was his family,” said Becky Gacono, Carl’s daughter. “His family was everything to him. We weren’t handed things. We worked hard for everything we got. And loving his wife (Mary Jane Bowman Gacono) was at the top of the list, and it trickled down to the rest of the family, and it went to our extended family. But they did it quietly. It was just who they were.

“He set the bar really high,” continued Gacono. “If I could be anybody, it would be him. He never spoke badly of anyone. ‘You never know what battles people are fighting,’ he would say. He always saw the good in everyone.”

A veteran leaves the parade route to shake the hand of Carl Gacano as he watches the 2019 Annville Memorial Day Parade. Gacano, who passed away on Nov. 1, cofounded the annual parade that honors the community’s veterans with his late wife Mary Jane Gacono. (Barb West)

Gacono founded the Annville real estate agency that Becky Gacono and her sister Mary Ann Gacono currently own. Before opening Gacono Real Estate in 1984, the elder Gacono had been a real estate agent with the former Rauch/Minnich agency in Lebanon since 1975.

Gacono’s notorious ‘gift of gab’ served him well in his line of work, as did his high standards and a work ethic motivated by providing for his family.

“If you asked him what time it was, he’d tell you how to build a watch,” said Gacono. “The difference with him was he cared about people. He wasn’t just a salesman. He lost business because he wouldn’t waiver on that. He always took the high road.

“I never met anyone who ever talked badly about my dad,” Gacono continued. “People liked him. He always made you feel like he was your biggest cheerleader. It would be a wonderful world if it was filled with V. Carls.”

The son of an immigrant from Italy, Venice Carl Gacono was born in Wildwood, New Jersey on June 6, 1929. He eventually settled in Lebanon County, and he and Mary Jane were the parents of six children, the grandparents of 14 and the great-grandparents of six.

“We felt like we were blessed,” said Gacono. “A lot of people don’t have their parents that long. He did a lot in his life. But it’s never easy.

“He was a very strong Christian in his beliefs,” added Gacono. “He felt like he was going to be with my mom again. He was in love with my mom. When she was gone, he was lost. He missed her terribly.”

Never was Gacono’s love for his family tested more than during Mary Jane’s nine-year battle with dementia. But never was Gacono’s resolve more apparent than during that time.

Mary Jane succumbed to her struggles with dementia in March of this year, some eight months before Carl’s passing.

“He cared for her until the last six months,” said Gacono. “My mom was strong and in charge at home. She kept the household. Before she died, he did everything for her. He loved her so much.

“It took its toll on him, physically, mentally, emotionally,” Gacono added. “But not one time did he ever say it was too hard, or that he couldn’t do it. We’d look at him and we could see it was exhausting. Towards the end, there were days that were very hard on him. But he was always patient with her. He loved his wife above everything else.”

It was a feeling of being blessed that caused the Gaconos to give back to the Annville community.

In the early 1990s, the Gaconos re-invented Annville’s Memorial Day parade, and through their guidance and hard work it became the largest Memorial Day parade in the Pennsylvania. The Gaconos were also instrumental in establishing and maintaining Annville’s annual Christmas Tree Lighting ceremony and Santa’s Arrival at the Allen Theatre.

The 2019 Annville Memorial Day Parade makes its way west along the main street of town with parade cofounder Carl Gacano riding in a while convertible. The banner in front of the car pays homage to Gacano’s late wife Mary Jane who cofounded the parade that honors the community’s veterans. Mary Jane Gacono passed away last year.

“The Annville parade had dwindled down to a fire engine and the high school marching band,” said Gacono. “My dad’s father was an immigrant from Italy and my dad was always appreciative of what the United States had to offer. We were always a strong military family. We respected the people who served, and we understood it came at a cost.

“He and my mom worked on the parade, and when he did things, he always did them big,” continued Gacono. “It became a wonderful Annville tradition. That was their goal, to bring the town together, to bring the community together, so we would remember. They raised all the money for those events. They always thought it was important to give back.”

Read More: Plenty to see at the Annville Memorial Day Parade, 29-year community tradition

The Gaconos continue to honor their parents’ memories through involvement with the community events that they started. In many ways, Becky Gacono is the person she is today because of the things she learned from them.

From the back seat of a white convertible Carl Gacono, enjoys his last Memorial Day Parade in Annville this past May. Gacano, who passed away on Nov. 1, will be fondly remembered by the community as the man who cofounded the parade that honored local veterans with his late wife Mary Jane. (Barb West)

“I think I will always smile when I remember him,” said Gacono. “I think there will always be tears too. There will be a gaping hole left in our lives. He was one of a kind.

“The people I know in the community always have kind things to say about him,” concluded Gacono. “I think he was responsible. People knew he was a good person. His goal was always to better himself. He would pay attention to what you were saying, and he would remember. He was always encouraging us to learn. When you give, it comes back ten-fold.”

V. Carl Gacono’s Life Lessons

  1. Be a person of action.
  2. Choose to be happy.
  3. Acknowledge fear.
  4. Persistence without exception.
  5. Forgive.
  6. Surround yourself.
  7. Leadership.
  8. Money is not everything.
  9. Be kind.
  10. Higher standard.

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All photos in this article special courtesy of Annville-based photographer Barb West.

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Jeff Falk is a seasoned journalist based in Lebanon, PA. He's a graduate of Cedar Crest High School, Penn State University, and a lifelong resident of Lebanon, born and raised. Currently, he is a feature writer for Engle Publishing in Lancaster, the editor of LebCoSports.com, sports director at WLBR...


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