Crescenta Valley has long been a place where people see a need and fill it. They volunteer, help their neighbor and, if they feel something needs to be done, they simply do it. No one embodied that spirit more than Vito Cannella.
Vito, the former Montrose postmaster, the neighborhood barber, one of the founding proponents of Flag Week and the most famous Italian in all of Montrose passed away on Sept. 1 at the age of 89.
Vito was born in Trieste, Italy on Oct. 27, 1928. He moved to Sicily where he attended school. After World War II, he returned to the town of his birth to work with the American Occupation Soldiers and the Merchant Marines in hopes of finding a path to the United States. Vito’s father had moved to the United States years before and it was his goal to find him. As a Merchant Marine, Vito sailed around the world and, on his 25th birthday, he arrived in Providence, Rhode Island. With limited resources and language skills, Vito searched for his father for months. He found him in San Pedro. And not only did he find his father, but it was there that he met and married his wife Florence in 1954.
Vito began learning English and began the process of becoming a United States citizen. It was this act of becoming a citizen that set him on a path that wrapped his life in the American flag. To him, the U.S. flag was more than just a symbol to be saluted before and after sporting events.
“My attachment to the flag is because this country helped me be what I am today,” Vito said in an interview with CVW.
To Vito, the flag was the symbol of a country that had allowed him to achieve his goals, to have a beautiful family and to live in freedom. In Montrose, he found kindred spirits in local businessman Bill Bailey, Ledger Newspaper Editor Don Carpenter, Congressman H. Allen Smith and the Crescenta-Cañada Rotary Club. They gathered thousands of signatures to petition Congress to implement Flag Week.
Flag Day was established in 1916 with a proclamation from President Woodrow Wilson. But a single day was not enough for these patriotic Montrose community members and in 1967 President Lyndon B. Johnson extended the day to a week with a proclamation. And every President since then has received a letter from Vito, reminding him of Flag Week and requesting the reissuance of the proclamation.
Vito would often walk up and down Honolulu Avenue in June during Flag Week, handing out flags to those passing by.
His love for the flag was recognized by Congressman Adam Schiff. The Congressman requested a dispensation from the American government so that Vito’s casket be allowed to be covered by a United States flag based on his contributions to National Flag Week. Within hours of that call, the family was informed that permission was granted and a flag was delivered to his daughter Grace’s house. But this was not just any flag; it was one that had been flown over the United States capitol on Flag Day 2014.
“He would have been so honored,” said Grace, “and we are so honored.”
Beyond Flag Week, Vito had been at the core of Montrose for years. He and his wife moved to Glendale where he attended barber college and worked as a busboy at Bob’s Big Boy in Montrose. After he received his barber license, he worked for a short time at a shop, but then moved on with his American dream by opening his own business in 1958 on La Crescenta Avenue and Foothill Boulevard under the Spike Jones Market.
Some of his earliest customers were Crescenta Valley High School students. Football and basketball teams turned their trip to Vito’s shop into a tradition when they received their seasonal haircuts.
It was during this time Vito became involved in politics and community issues and, in 1966, he left barbering for a few years when he was appointed as the Montrose postmaster, according to his family.
Three years later he returned to his profession and opened Vito’s Barbershop on Ocean View Boulevard where it continued until 2005 when it closed and Vitro semi retired to work a few days each week at the Montrose Barbershop.
“He was a barber in the Crescenta Valley for over 60 years cutting hair [for] generations of families. He had hundreds of customers over those years and valued their patronage and friendship,” stated Grace Chase, Vito’s daughter.
Sitting in his barber chair, visitors could always count on a good conversation, peppered with lots of opinion.
“He enjoyed each and every one of those moments,” his family stated.
Vito was very active in Montrose; he sat on the Montrose Parking Board and the Montrose Shopping Park Association. In 1981, he became a member of the Los Angeles County Human Relations Committee and served as a member of the LA County Sybil Brand Institutional Inspection Commission where he inspected prisons, camps and juvenile homes making sure people’s human rights were protected.
Another of Vito’s passions was providing service to the disabled community. He raised thousands of dollars for Tierra Del Sol Foundation, an organization that supports this community and served his own daughter, Anna, for over 30 years. For 44 years, he hosted, along with the help of friends, the community and Holy Redeemer Church, a Christmas party for disabled adults.
His passion was service, but his true love was his family. All who reside in the Crescenta Valley and all who knew Vito knew of his love and commitment to his family.
Vito was preceded in death by his beloved wife Florence who died in 2015. He is survived by his three daughters, Anna Cannella, Rosemary Cannella, Grace Chase and his son-in-law Jay Chase. He was blessed with three grandchildren: Matthew Chase (wife Christa), Brian Chase (wife Natalie) and Lauren Brady (husband Kevin).
He was a loving Italian nonno to great grandchildren: Gavin, Mikey, Jacob, Olivia, Connor, Madison, Hudson and Chase. His legacy to them is to inspire everyone to dream, to believe in our ability to positively affect our society, to have faith in God and in the purpose of life, to care for those who require assistance and to love America.
Vito has received many awards and recognitions throughout his life. At one of those ceremonies where he received certificates from government officials, including Congressman Adam Schiff, he reflected on his dedication and love for the U.S. and his work for recognition of Flag Week.
“So, what is the moral of this story as we gather today to celebrate patriotism?” Vito asked. “The moral is that out of small towns like Montrose, the dreams and goals of hard-working citizens can be realized for our city, our county, our state and country.”
And, as always, Vito never let a moment go by without sharing his opinion or reminding people of his cause.
“Please remember to display ‘Old Glory’ from Sunday to Saturday during the week of June 14 every year,” he would ask.
Services for Vito Cannella include a visitation at Forest Lawn, Glendale, today, Thursday, Sept. 5 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There will be a memorial Mass at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church, 2411 Montrose Ave. in Montrose, the parish where he served as an usher for over 50 years, on Saturday, Sept. 9 at noon.
In lieu of flowers, a donation can be made in his name to Tierra Del Sol Foundation at 9919 Sunland Blvd., Sunland, CA 91040.