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Santo John Calcagnetti

A Tribute to a Life Well Lived

Santo John Calcagnetti, 89, of Bethlehem Township passed away from chronic heart failure on June 15th 2022 at his son’s home under the care of Hospice among family. He was born on August 8th, 1932 in Warren county, Phillipsburg NJ, at home on 152 Washington Street. He was the only son of Girolamo (a 1921 immigrant from Terni, Italy; self-taught in English and who became a successful engineer creating several designs at Ingerall-Rand) and Giacomina Ann (nee DeNardo born in Roseto, PA). Back then to achieve anglicization, they changed their names to Jerome and Josephine. Santos’ sisters were Lena, Angelina and Genevieve (all deceased) all born in America and proud of it.

Over his nearly 90 years, he had a good life with a few drawbacks. One of the worst was his father dying in 1944 of bleeding ulcers when Santo was only 12. The loss of his father at such a young age was a great hardship. It did contribute to making him grow up quick and it honed his determination to be successful.

He was a 1949 graduate of Easton High School, PA and as a lite-weight wrestler, he earned a District Championship title. He enlisted in the US army and served as a tank commander he completed training in the use of tanks in a nuclear battlefield environment. He also opted to attend training in cook and baking school through the US Army. Once his enlistment was up, he continued serving in the Armor Reserve (Louisville KY, Fort Indian Town Gap and Phillipsburg, NJ and Reading PA). After earning the best student award (1971) and he retired from the Army (with an honorable discharge). Santo earned the rank of Major in the Armor Reserve and he retired from service completely after 20 years of military service.

Santo was a self-made man and through hard work (in heat, grease found in kitchens and long hours of sacrifice) made opportunities for himself and his family. He became a relentless workaholic, often putting in 17-hour days and then collapsing in bed. To state he loved cooking would be a ginormous understatement. He was in his element and at his best when he was 12 orders deep (tables of diners) at 7 pm. The degree of his organization, focus and skill to single-handedly provide high cuisine dinners was simply awesome and he was humble about it. He freely taught others who wanted to learn and shared recipes.

Santo first worked at the Circlon in Easton, PA (1952-1972), and then at Cascade Lodge (1972-1976), in Kintnersville, PA. As head chef at Cascade Lodge (working for Paula and Howard Knuth) he helped transform an extended bed and breakfast operation into a four-star establishment presenting many classic dishes on the menu (for example: Tenderloin Beef Wellington, King Crab Santos, Lobster Americaine, Rack of Lamb, Combination Seafood, Duck ala Orange, Beef Tournedos, Stuffed mushrooms, Clams Casino, Oysters Rockefeller, Sauce Bearnaise). His biggest culinary accomplishments were to successfully feed 600-800 customers without running out of turkey on Thanksgivings or Prime Rib/Lobster tails on New Years Eves.  While at Cascade Lodge, he hired many graduates from the Hyde Park, NY Culinary Institute of America. His favorite beverages were Miller Highlife, Southern Comfort (the Grand Old Drink of the South that he first encountered in Lousiville, KY) and coffee however not, all at the same time.

In 1953, Santo met, courted and married an 18-year-old Pennsylvania Dutch girl with German ancestry, Joan Marie Weider, also of Phillipsburg. She fell in love with him like a ton of bricks the first time he took her for a joy ride from the moment she sat on his leopard seat covers. They married in 1953. Santos’ mother became depressed and ill, they both took care of her in Easton. In 1955, the couple bought their first home: 4312 Winfield Terrace. Two years later their only son Daniel J. was born. In 1964, they were divorced, but then remarried in 1967, strange to marry the same woman twice, but true, because he loved her. In 1968, Joan left again for good to pursue a nursing career, they remained friends and in love yet, could not manage to live together in major part due to his work schedule. She threatened to take Daniel with her to FL. Santo made it clear she could leave but their son was staying with him to raise and that was not negotiable.

Santo raised his son often taking him to the restaurant and started teaching him how to cook at age 6 ( “Remember Danny, to make breaded onion rings keep one hand wet and one hand dry!”). When Daniel turned 16, Santo tossed him the keys of his 1968 Hunter Green Ford Mustang and simply said “Drive.” Daniel was a quick study under his father’s direction just like with cooking. Santo also bought two convertible Triumph Spitfires (one white and one magenta) that he loved. Santo often helped Daniel with his math, English and science homework. And, he supported Daniel when his son stated at an early age he wanted to be a scientist and work in a lab. From 1975-1979, Santo paid his son’s entire way through Moravian College (with the understanding that Daniel would study finance and accounting) but, in 1975, Daniel decided on the first day of college to study science.

After graduating with a BS in Psychology, Daniel left for masters training in drug addiction treatments and philosophy of science at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, NY. After spending a few months in Munich, Germany, with his mentor Dr Larry D. Reid, Daniel then entered doctoral training in behavioral pharmacology at Temple University (Philadelphia, PA). After graduating from Temple University in 3.5 years with both a Master of Arts and a PhD in Experimental Psychology, he left PA to pursue post-doctoral research at Dartmouth College NH, then Emory University, GA and Northeastern Ohio Medical University, OH until accepting a full-time faculty position at Fairleigh Dicking University, Madison, NJ to be closer to his father. Santo was forever supportive and was very proud of his sons’ accomplishments (69 publications, the only faculty in his dept. to earn Teacher of the Year and several grants). However, he once asked: “Danny if this science/teaching thing ever fails, how are you going to feed your family?”

When Santo was hired at Cascade Lodge as head chef in 1973, he soon had his son employed and Daniel worked himself up from bus boy to line cook to flambe’ chef (tableside preparations of Cherries Jubilee, Crepes, Bananas Foster, Steak Diane and Caesar salad). Their stay at Cascade Lodge was rather brief due to cooking philosophy differences with the owners. In 1976, he had the idea to buy and operate his own restaurant. The manager from Cascade Lodge, Babette Larkin (a relative of the Knuths’, Howard and Paula), teamed up with Santo both in business and intimacy. They bought an existing Bar/restaurant for 195K on 4080 William Penn Hwy (Palmer Township, PA) and forming Calar Corporation named their restaurant Café’ Candelier. As a team they struggled at times to grow their business and eventually succeeded turning it into a first-class establishment lasting 25 years. That was a feat in the cut-throat competitive restaurant business. During their married years together, Babette took loving care of Santo and never left him unlike Joan.

In 1995, Santo approached his son with an offer for him to buy and run the restaurant, the intent was to keep the restaurant in the family (and if that science thing ever failed). Daniel ultimately decided to refuse the generous offer and focused on building an academic career at Fairleigh Dicking University Depts of Psychology and Chemistry (for a total of 28 years until his retirement sparked by a generous buyout of this contract 6/2021).  Ultimately, that refusal might have been a poor decision, one that Daniel will remember for the rest of his life with some regret. One main reason for refusal was the high probability of alcoholism and lung cancer that is likely in restuarateurs. In 2001, with his eyesight starting to fail, Santo and Babette sold their restaurant for 275K and retired to raise dachshunds and refurbish their home at 4312 Winfield Terrace (enhancing its’ value considerably for a home originally built in 1955). What made Santo most proud however was the birth of his grandson, Dane Joseph in 1996 whom, at a very young age, Santo proceeded to spoil rotten with handfuls of French fries and piggy-back rides through the restaurant. Pop, your genes survive in your grandson, the family surname goes on just as you wished.

In the 2000s, the couple took many trips with his business partner and later second wife, Babette Diane nee Behringer) becoming a world traveler with his friend Richard O’Hay and other couples. Via ocean liner cruises and 747s flights they visited and toured Italy (he liked Rome the best), Portugal, Germany, Russia (he liked St. Petersburg), Alaska (he liked the fresh King Crab the best), and the Caribbean. In 2012, Babette passed away due to colon cancer and Santo became increasingly deaf yet, he remained active around the house and had his grandson visit from time to time and they painted a garage wall sized mural together Santo had originally painted there in the 1960s but was painted over in the remolding. In 1999, Daniel had purchased a home 12 mins away from 4312 Winfield with the intent of caring for his father until the end. He would not and did not pass alone.

Over his 48 years in the restaurant business, Santo enjoyed spending time with his friends: Richard O’Hay, Penny Kruczko, Woody Siegfried, Angelo S. Cantanzarini, Mickey Lombardo, Joel Goldfarb, Robert White, Richmond E. Johnson, Pete Whitey, Cy Adler, Paul Downy, Paul Cherney, John Erickson, Artie LaBar, Donna LaBar, Jackie Edinger, Sam Swacker, Willie Thomas, Dave Tass, Lee Hoover, Evelyn and Dean Soderberg (and their children Dean C. and Diane S.) and many more.

He also maintained an enduring relationship with his son’s first girlfriend, Barbara Amelia Abbott (Riegelsville, PA). In 1975, at 18 years old, Barbara had become a fearless table-side cooking hostess (flambe’) and pastry server at Cascade Lodge (her grandfather was a true French chef and had taught Barbara a lot about cooking).  She respected Santo’s cooking talents very much, attitudes about life and in short, they clicked.  Before Santo passed, he instructed his son to tell Barbara good-by and to have a happy life (his request now fulfilled). Several times Santo lamented that he wished she could have become his daughter-in-law knowing how happy she had made his son, they belonged together. Santo especially relished her Strawberry Rhubarb pie as late as 2019. They shared delightful conversations and more than a few Miller beers while working together at Cascade Lodge, this was puzzling to others.

And, most of all, his best friend though thick and thin was computer expert and printing engineer, David A. Reed. In the 90s and 2000s, they shared many conversations, drinks, long walks and stories. He could not have asked for a better entrusted friend even cooking together when the going got rough in the kitchen with more orders than one person could handle.

In sum, Santo spread good will to others and was respected and loved by many. Most of all, he was Daniel’s role-model of a good and compassionate human being who never hurt anyone. Daniel: “My father was my hero. I have tried to aspire to become half the person my father was. He saved my life not only once but twice. He had my back and we were a great team in the kitchen, I always followed his lead.” He will be dearly missed especially by his grandson, Dane, who never got to see his grandfather cooking at his restaurant. A pity as this was a sight to behold. Santo’s last words to his son were to help others and do good deeds. He had me promise again to have Dane’s back always…I will Pop always as you had mine, I promise.

Survivors: His only child, Daniel J. and his grandson, Dane Joseph.

Contributions: In lieu of flowers, please direct donations to tissue regeneration, slowing the aging process (life extension) research or development of CRISPR Cas-9 gene editing and related technologies.