VANCOUVER, BC – For years, Clelia Lenarduzzi would visit the cemetery almost every Sunday and drop off flowers for her fallen husband and oldest son, who she lost to cancer.
Her visits became a little less frequent over the last few years, as Clielia’s health deteriorated after being diagnosed with dementia. But she was there with her sons on May 4 – the day of her 92nd birthday.
“That would have been the last time we went,” said Sam Lenarduzzi, one of Clelia’s four sons.
Clelia, the mother of former Whitecaps FC players and current executives Sam, Dan, and Bob Lenarduzzi, passed away on Saturday, May 10 – the day before Mother’s Day.
All the brothers – even Bob, who was scheduled to fly to Columbus on Friday but ended up staying back after the flight was postponed due to mechanical issues – were planning on taking her to the cemetery again on Mother’s Day.
“In her mind, she was still taking care of her family so she needed to do that,” said Sam Lenarduzzi.
And that’s how Clelia will be remembered – as someone who dedicated her life to family.
“Her sole focus was family ... that was her destiny in life,” added Bob Lenarduzzi. “Others might think that there’s a lot more out there, but for her it was very fulfilling.”
Vancouver Whitecaps FC’s match this Saturday, May 24, against Seattle Sounders FC will be dedicated in the memory of Clelia – a woman who played an integral part in raising four boys, three of whom have been servants of the club for several years.
Born in Udine, Italy, Clelia and her husband, Giovanni, moved to Vancouver in 1952 so they could “give a better life” to their children. Their two oldest sons, Vanni and Sam, were also born in Italy, while Bob and Dan were born in Vancouver.
First and foremost, Clelia wanted her boys to be honest, hard-working and responsible. That’s part of the reason why she ran a very strict and organized household. The boys would have chores every day after dinner, whether it was washing the dishes, sweeping the floor, or any other household task.
“She and my dad both had very high values that they instilled in all of us,” said Sam Lenarduzzi. “And they were very strong on the discipline side as well. Let’s put it this way, you wouldn’t want to step out of line.”
And it didn’t matter whether you were on the soccer field or not. Just ask Bob Lenarduzzi. After he got his first red card in a professional soccer game, Lenarduzzi told reporters he was “terrified to go home,” according to longtime sports journalist Jim Taylor.
“He said, ‘My mom is going to be so mad,’” said Taylor, who co-wrote Lenarduzzi’s biography. “She had very strict ideas about sportsmanship and how the game should be played.”
As strict as she could be, ask anyone who knew Clelia and they’ll tell you that she was even more loving. Whether Clelia knew you or not, she would treat you as her own.
“My mom was a very giving, caring person that always wanted to help people,” said Dan Lenarduzzi, her youngest son. “We used to talk about things and different people and even if there was someone she didn’t know, she always seemed to defend the people that needed defending.”
Sometimes, it was her own sons that needed defending. Clelia never attended their soccer games – she took offense to some of the comments made in the crowd and she didn’t like the physical contact involved with the game.
She would, however, sit on the porch of their Dundas Street home during their games at Empire Stadium and gauge how it was going depending on the crowd’s reaction.
“The irony is that she knew nothing about the game, but if my dad came home and was critical of any of the boys’ performances, she would instantly defend her boys,” said Bob Lenarduzzi. “Ask her what she was defending and she wouldn’t know.”
“She was just that way,” added Sam Lenarduzzi. “She was a very giving lady that would very well do anything for anybody. If you came to the house and it was dinner time, even if she didn’t know you, she would feed you a dinner and make sure you ate a lot.”
Cooking was one of Clelia’s favourite pastimes. She loved having guests over and making them a good meal. Her best dishes, according to her sons, were her gnocchi and lasagna – both made from scratch, of course.
“She would love to cook and see all of her men around the table,” said Bob Lenarduzzi. “That’s when she was the happiest.”
“She would cook like you wouldn’t believe,” added Sam Lenarduzzi. “She was a very, very, very good cook.”
That’s one of the reasons why the Lenarduzzi household became like a “meeting zone” for the brothers and their friends, according to Dan Lenarduzzi. Whenever they were around the area, they’d head over for lunch and Clelia would have a big bowl of soup prepared for them.
As the youngest of four brothers, Dan spent the most time at home and each of the brothers agree that he became the closest with their mom. Even after he moved out, Dan would pay her a special visit on his way to work every morning.
“We just used to sit down, she’d make me some fruit, and we’d have a coffee together and just talk about things,” he recalled. “Sometimes we didn’t even talk. Just being with each other for that period of time … I remember thinking to myself that those were special moments that I’d always remember afterwards.”
Over the last 92 years, there have been many special moments – through the ups and downs. Clelia survived two bouts of breast cancer in the 1980s and was diagnosed with dementia in 2012.
But even as her health deteriorated, her love for her family remained as strong as ever.
“I think she’d like to be remembered for what she gave to all of her family and her kids,” said Dan Lenarduzzi. “She and my dad left a very solid situation in Italy to try and create a better life for us. When I look at my brothers, all the grandkids that she has, all the great grandkids that she has, she’s leaving a real legacy through the name and through what she and my dad created for us here in Vancouver.”
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A Memorial Service will be held on Wednesday, May 21 at 10 a.m. PT at Our Lady of Sorrows Parish at 555 Slocan Street, Vancouver, BC. In lieu of flowers, the family welcomes donations to the Alzheimer Society of B.C. (in memory of Clelia Lenarduzzi), 300 - 828 West 8th Avenue, Vancouver, BC V5Z 1E2 or online at: www.alzheimerbc.org.