The loss of an icon

Si­cil­ians re­mem­ber Se­bas­tiano Sbona, for­mer mayor of sis­ter city Melilli

The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Cas­san­dra Day

MID­DLE­TOWN —The for­mer mayor of Mid­dle­town’s sis­ter city of Melilli, Si­cily, is be­ing re­mem­bered this week as a man of in­tegrity and vi­sion who changed the lives of those he touched.

The long­time politi­cian and am­bas­sador to Mid­dle­town’s Si­cil­ian pop­u­la­tion, Dr. Se­bas­tiano Sbona, died Tues­day from com­pli­ca­tions of pan­cre­atic can­cer. Sbona had just turned 70, his cousin Tony Mi­lardo said.

“Ev­ery­one who knew him called him Ianuzzo — or Iano” — for short,” Mi­lardo said. “He was a gen­tle­man. He was like an icon over there in the prov­inces of Syra­cusa and Palermo,” said Mi­lardo, 66, whose fa­ther and Sbona’s mother were brother and sis­ter. Mi­lardo, a Viet­nam vet­eran, was born in Melilli and came to Amer­ica in 1951 at age 7.

Sbona was also the for­mer re­gional deputy of Melilli.

“He was a peo­ple per­son, a fam­ily man. He cared for the ci­ti­zens of Melilli. He did so many fa­vors be­cause of job scarcity over there,” his cousin said. “He was very re­li­gious and his brother was a pri­est. A good, good man. I can’t even de­scribe how good this man was,” he said.

One of Mid­dle­town’s most pop­u­lar may­ors, An­thony “Buddy” Sbona, who died in 2003 at 73, was a sec­ond cousin.

“How ironic is that,” Mi­lardo asked, sit­ting at the kitchen ta­ble of his home at Stonegate Apart­ments. His sis­ter Tina (Mi­lardo) Maselli

agreed.

Sbona was elected in 2001 to the Palermo Re­gional Assem­bly. He served five years. Mi­lardo said his cousin was in­volved in pol­i­tics from a very young age — about 24.

Sbona was a coun­cil­man in Melilli, a mayor sev­eral times, and pres­i­dent of the coun­cil on many oc­ca­sions, Mi­lardo re­called. Af­ter ob­tain­ing his med­i­cal li­cense, Sbona be­came chief med­i­cal le­gal of­fi­cer for the prov­inces of Syra­cusa and Ra­gusa.

“He han­dled work­man’s comp and dis­abil­ity. He was also a foren­sic pathol­o­gist,” Mi­lardo said. “He did so much. It’s amaz­ing.”

Sbona leaves be­hind his wife, Filom­ena; his daugh­ter, Es­ter; son, Sal­va­tore; and grand­son, Se­bas­tiano, his name­sake.

Mid­dle­town Com­mon Coun­cil­man and for­mer mayor Thomas Serra met Sbona at the be­gin­ning of his coun­cil ca­reer in the early 1980s while Sbona was mayor. “When we went over there, he treated us like kings and queens,” Serra said. In 1994, when Serra was mayor, Sbona came to the city with about 70 peo­ple, in­clud­ing his fam­ily and mem­bers of a band who played at the high school and South Green.

Sbona was last in Mid­dle­town in 2011, Serra said, and while Se­bas­tian N. Gi­u­liano was mayor, the coun­cil hon­ored Sbona with a res­o­lu­tion that his daugh­ter read in English. Many for­mer res­i­dents of Melilli in­te­grated in up­per Mid­dle­sex County, Serra said. “They came to Mid­dle­town, Port­land, Cromwell. Some were farm­ers and — a lot of them were stone ma­sons be­cause of the quar­ries.” Some went to Mas­sachusetts quar­ries, too, he re­called.

Serra re­mem­bers one time, when he and his wife were in Melilli in 2008 on a 12-day trip, she came down with laryn­gi­tis. “(Sbona) was in a spe­cial coun­cil meet­ing and she couldn’t talk. He told her to open her mouth and look down and saw she had a red throat. He ac­tu­ally pre­scribed med­i­ca­tion for her,” said Serra.

That’s not the only time Serra saw Sbona’s car­ing side. “When he came over in 2009, my son had been in a se­vere ac­ci­dent, so he came to visit him at the Hos­pi­tal for Spe­cial Care and checked him out.

“‘Don’t worry,’ he said. ‘You’re go­ing to come out of this. As long as your joints are not com­pro­mised, you’ll be fine,’ ” Serra re­called. “My son re­mem­bers that he told him he would walk again. He al­ways re­mem­bers Dr. Sbona be­ing pos­i­tive.”

Serra re­mem­bered a story his older son told him when he was vis­it­ing Melilli for his hon­ey­moon. “At the air­port (Sbona) had a sign say­ing, ‘Ja­son and Jill Serra.’ He was hold­ing the sign. That’s the type of guy he was.”

Sbona was di­ag­nosed with pan­cre­atic can­cer in March. “It was a shock,” Serra said.

Mi­lardo said when he vis­ited Sbona ear­lier this

“Ev­ery­one who knew him called him Ianuzzo — or Iano” — for short . ... He was a gen­tle­man. He was like an icon over there in the prov­inces of Syra­cusa and Palermo.” Tony Mi­lardo, Se­bas­tiano Sbona’s cousin

year, he was rest­ing on the couch and al­though the fam­ily didn’t speak about Sbona’s health, Mi­lardo knew some­thing was wrong.

Mi­lardo’s aunt and un­cle, Sbona’s par­ents, came to Mid­dle­town in the 1950s, he said. Sbona and his brother, who even­tu­ally be­came a pri­est, and sis­ter stayed be­hind.

“Se­bas­tiano was so young,” Mi­lardo said, “he still had to go through school, so my aunt went back and my un­cle stayed here.”

The fam­ily lived on Hotchkiss Street. His un­cle Sal­va­tore worked at Goodyear Rub­ber as a car­pen­ter un­til 1968, Mi­lardo said, so he could get his full pen­sion, then re­turned to Melilli. He put his son through med­i­cal school, Mi­lardo said, but sadly didn’t see his son be­come a doc­tor.

“His first time in the U.S. was 1975,” Mi­lardo said. “He was a young politi­cian and just fin­ished med­i­cal school — he was 28 or so — and stayed here two or three weeks. He started to love it here. We tried to make him stay,” Mi­lardo said. “He liked the med­i­cal sys­tem, how it worked.”

“It was noth­ing like so­cial­ized medicine,” back in the home coun­try, he said.

Still, Se­bas­tiano told his cousin, “‘My lan­guage is over there.’ He was go­ing to get mar­ried even­tu­ally. He made sev­eral trips here af­ter that.”

Sbona was mayor of Melilli in 1982, when the two towns first of­fi­cially pro­nounced them­selves sis­ter cities. At the time, Sbona told The Press, the sis­ter­hood was in­tended “to deepen and re­in­force the con­nec­tion, seek­ing to es­tab­lish cul­tural, com­mer­cial and so­cial ties, be­tween the two cities.”

At the time, Michael Cu­beta was mayor of Mid­dle­town. “He came here and Sen. Low­ell We­icker and U.S. Rep. Sam Ge­j­den­son made sure he took a trip to the White House,” his cousin said. There was a big cel­e­bra­tion, with 400 peo­ple, at Wes­leyan Univer­sity’s McConaughey Hall, where the ten­nis courts are now, he said.

For­mer mayor and now Com­mon Coun­cil­man Se­bas­tian N. Gi­u­liano, who met Sbona around 2003 when he vis­ited Mid­dle­town, said Sbona was very im­pressed with Mid­dle­sex Hos­pi­tal.

“The level of tech­nol­ogy that is avail­able to us here and how re­liant on that tech­nol­ogy the de­liv­ery of med­i­cal ser­vice is now in the United States. Doc­tors over there are al­most like doc­tors were in the 1950s and 1960s in this coun­try,” Gi­u­liano said. “They di­ag­nosed based on their per­sonal ob­ser­va­tions — whereas we go with all kinds of tech­nol­ogy and di­ag­nos­tic tools and the bat­ter­ies of tests we run.

“They’re more like seat-of-the-pants air­plane pilots as op­posed to the guy fly­ing on in­stru­ments now.”

Gi­u­liano last vis­ited Melilli in 2011 with his wife and daugh­ter. “I’d love to go back. Go­ing back and not see­ing him there, it’s go­ing to be dif­fer­ent. He was so much of a fix­ture.

A memo­rial Mass will take place Thurs­day at 7 p.m. at St. Se­bas­tian Church, 155 Wash­ing­ton St.

Con­trib­uted pho­tos

The for­mer mayor of Melilli, Si­cily; Se­bas­tiano Sbona, 70; cen­ter, died at home on Tues­day of pan­cre­atic can­cer. Shown at left are Sbona’s brother, Mon­signor Ig­nazio Sbona; and cousin, Tony Mi­lardo, of Mid­dle­town.

A woman hon­ors a statue of St. Se­bas­tian dur­ing the an­nual feast at Mid­dle­town’s St. Se­bas­tian Church. In Melilli, Si­cily, Mid­dle­town's sis­ter city, the pa­tron saint has been cel­e­brated for more than 600 years.

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