Former Army nurse from Jeannette ‘led a life of service’
When Vicki Santoro boarded her flight from San Luis Obispo, Calif., to Phoenix on Sept. 30, 2016, she didn’t expect anything out of the ordinary. But as the pilot addressed passengers and crew before takeoff, she was surprised with what her granddaughter, Kristen Diulus Campbell, said might have been the honor of her lifetime.
The pilot announced that Vicki — a World War II veteran who served in the Army Nurse Corps — was on board. The plane erupted into applause and cheers, and the crew upgraded her to first class. A passenger slipped a note to Campbell, thanking her grandmother for her service.
“It meant so much to her, that she was just upset and excited and sad at the same time,” Campbell said.
It was one of the only times she saw her otherwise stoic grandmother cry, she said. Campbell hopes her grandmother finally understood how much her lifetime of sacrifices and service meant to others.
Adeline “Vicki” Vitolo Santoro died Sept. 17, 2018. She was 99 years old, just two months shy of her 100th birthday.
Born Nov. 19, 1918, to Emelia and Alfredo Vitolo, Mrs. Santoro immigrated to the United States from Italy as a toddler with her parents. Her family settled in Jeannette, where Mrs. Santoro graduated from Jeannette High School in 1936. She went on to receive her registered nurse certification at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh in 1939.
She immediately joined the Army Nurse Corps as a second lieutenant, joining her two brothers who were already serving in the military.
“She led a life of service,” said her daughter, Patricia Diulus-
Myers. “So she wanted to serve her country. Her entire life, she was devoted to other people.”
Mrs. Santoro was stationed at Fort Story in Virginia Beach, Letterman General Hospital in San Francisco and Quarry Heights in the Panama Canal Zone. That’s where she met her late husband, Vincent H. Santoro, who served in World War II and the Korean War. They had four children together, and the military family crisscrossed the country before settling in the Washington, D.C., area, Diulus-Myers said.
But Division Street in Jeannette was always home to Mrs. Santoro.
“That’s where she had her fondest memories,” Diulus-Myers said, adding that her mother valued her strong religious upbringing in the tight-knit community.
After leaving the Army Nurse Corps, Mrs. Santoro practiced nursing in Alexandria until retiring at age 70. She walked miles to and from work, sometimes detouring to attend Mass, in her white, leather nurse’s shoes every day, her son Vince Santoro said. She often joked that she retired too early.
“Any memory that I have of her is uplifting because she was a doer,” Santoro said. “You could always count on the fact that if she had an intention, you knew that it was going to get done.”
Mrs. Santoro volunteered at the 1968 Resurrection City in Washington, D.C., and in the emergency room at Inova Alexandria Hospital. She also worked at the Carpenter’s Shelter for the Homeless and as a volunteer for Alexandrians InVolved Ecumenically. Her children say that she never stopped moving, whether she was in the kitchen cooking an Italian feast, mowing the lawn or tending to her vegetables.
“She just never sat down, except maybe to crochet some afternoons for her grandkids,” Diulus-Myers said.
Through the age of 94, Mrs. Santoro led a line dancing class at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria.
“If I could just have a fraction of the strength, morality and wonderful sense of humor, and religious fortitude that she had, I would be an immensely better person,” said Diulus-Myers.
Her story is included in the Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Washington, D.C.
Mrs. Santoro is survived by four children, Alfred P. Santoro of Redmond, Ore.; Patricia Diulus-Myers of Pittsburgh; Jacqueline R. Santoro of San Luis Obispo, Calif.; and Vincent H. Santoro Jr., of Nashville; five grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and one great-great grandchild.
A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at Ascension Church in Jeannette, followed by services at Blessed Sacrament Church in Alexandria, Va., with military honors and burial in Arlington National Cemetery. Arrangements were handled by John V. Graziano Funeral Home Inc. in Jeannette.
Memorials can be made in her memory to the Alzheimer’s Association.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jamie at 724-850-2867, [email protected] or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.