Salvatore “Sam” Prestianni, a retired Social Security Administration executive who coached youth baseball in Catonsville, died of complications from Parkinson’s disease on April 9 at his home in Ellicott City. He was 90 years old.
Born in Baltimore, he was the son of Sicilian immigrants Frank Prestianni, a Baltimore and Ohio Railroad office worker, and Katie Liberto, a housewife.
He grew up in downtown Baltimore, near Lexington Market, and spent his childhood in a townhouse on Greene Street. He was baptized at St. John the Baptist Church (now St. Jude Shrine).
“The house was filled with extended family members, including aunts, uncles, cousins and three sisters,” his son Sam Prestianni said. “They were active in the St. John’s community, loved church events like street fairs, bingo nights, spaghetti dinners, the annual May Procession led by the Knights of the Italian-American Society. ”
His son said Mr Prestianni attended St. John’s School, where the nuns taught him to be careful with his language.
“My father later wrote in a memoir: ‘The first warning I received from the nuns was about my coarse mouth. I used to swear freely; it was the language I was used to both in the house and on the street. But they put the fear of God in me. I remember pledging never to swear again. And I didn’t.
At the age of 10, Mr Prestianni started working at Lexington Market selling grocery bags and soon joined his mother’s cousin, Carmello Liberto, who ran a fruit and vegetable stand.
“My eyes must have been opened from now on as I learned all the ropes of life working there until I graduated from college some 11 years later,” Ms. Prestianni in his memoir, “Fast Years.”
He played baseball in parking lots near Lexington Market and attended as many minor league Orioles games as he could squeeze in. He dreamed of playing in the big leagues, says his son.
When his home parish formed a Little League team, he was one of the first to join. He played basketball, baseball, and football at Calvert Hall College High School and present-day Loyola University of Maryland, where he graduated.
In his memoir, Mr. Prestianni recalls walking a few blocks to see movies at the Stanley, Mayfair and Howard cinemas. He enjoyed dancing and attended musical events at the Cahill Recreation Center near Walbrook, the former Church of the Fourteen Holy Martyrs and the Alcazar Ballroom on Cathedral Street. He also danced on moonlight cruises aboard tour boats in the Chesapeake Bay.
He served in the military and worked at a traveling auditing firm in Salt Lake City and San Francisco from 1954 to 1956. Mr. Prestianni met his future wife, Margaret Mary Kantzes, in Ocean City. They married in 1964.
Skilled in mathematics and accounting, Mr Prestianni was fascinated by numbers – he calculated odds and reveled in studying strange numerical coincidences and sports statistics.
“He never bet on horses with a lot of money because he was too cautious,” his son said. “Still, he often came home with decent earnings.”
He got into accounting. Among his jobs were positions at the former Baltimore Transit Co., Glenn L. Martin Co., and Federal Power Commission. He joined the Social Security Administration in 1963.
Mr. Prestianni rose through the ranks as an accountant, auditor, analyst and director. He retired in 1990 as special assistant to SSA’s chief financial officer, Norman Goldstein.
Mr. Prestianni received the first annual Treasury Department Distinguished Cash Management Award.
After moving to Catonsville, he coached baseball, football and basketball teams for the former Catonsville Midget League and basketball for St. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church.
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“Sam was a mix of Damon Runyon and Walt Disney,” said Reverend Christopher Whatley, former pastor of St. Mark. “He knew you always needed a few characters in your life and he always saw the good in others. His role was to make those he loved happy, especially his children and grandchildren.
“My dad was an inspirational coach because he always made sure everyone in the team got playing time, and when his team was crushing the opposition, he gave the kids more time on the bench so that the score isn’t a complete blowout,” his son said. “He also threw festive team parties with trophies and pizza at the end of each season.”
After the death of his first wife in 1983, Mr. Prestianni married Bobbie Reinecke Mitchell, an artist and nurse. They lived in Ellicott City.
His son said that Mr. Prestianni was a spiritual person. He was initially reluctant to remarry after the death of his first wife. When a rose they had planted many years before came back to life after lying dormant near a religious shrine in his garden, he took it as a sign.
Survivors include his wife of 22 years, Bobbie Reinecke Mitchell, nurse and artist; five sons, Frank Prestianni of Owings Mills, Sam Prestianni of Oakland, California, Bill Prestianni of Eldersburg, David Prestianni of Hagerstown and Jack Mitchell of Pompano Beach, Florida; two daughters, Julie Mitchell of Relay and Nancy Gumbel of Elkridge; and 12 grandchildren.
Services were held last Wednesday at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City.