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SOUTH PORTLAND — A small park between Meeting House Hill and Willard Square is now Santo ‘Sam’ DiPietro Memorial Park.
The City Council voted unanimously Monday night, Nov. 21, to change the name of the small triangular park and playground in memory of the late business owner and public servant, who died in early October at the age of 81.
The park, bordered by Cottage Road and Pillsbury and Davis streets, is a short stroll from the Cottage Road market the DiPietro family has owned for nearly five decades.
The park was previously named Willard School Park in the 1980s, Mayor Tom Blake said at the Nov. 21 meeting. But a lot of people tend to already informally call it “Sammy’s Park,” several councilors noted.
DiPietro was a city councilor, served as mayor and for four terms as a state legislator, and was also the founder of the South Portland chapter of the Boys and Girls Club.
A native of Lettomanoppello, Italy, DiPietro emigrated with his parents to Portland’s Munjoy Hill neighborhood, where in the 1940s they opened DiPietro’s Italian Sandwiches on Cumberland Avenue. It would operate for the next 69 years, until 2011.
When DiPietro and his wife, Helen, were married in 1955, they moved to South Portland and raised four children, who eventually opened their own DiPietro’s Market in the early 1970s. Two of his four children still work and manage the market at 385 Cottage Road.
Sam DiPietro, the youngest of the siblings, manages the convenience store and grocery that is known for specialty Italian sandwiches, pizza and pasta.
“My jaw hit the floor, (and) I started crying,” Sam said on Tuesday, recalling when he found out the park would be named after his dad. “I just had no idea it was coming. It’s just a genuinely nice thing for the city to do.”
When the proposal to rename the park was first discussed at a Nov. 14 workshop, Councilor Linda Cohen said naming a place for a resident “isn’t something we’ve done a lot of; it’s always for someone we feel is kind of extraordinary.”
Cohen called DiPietro a “legend in the community,” and naming the park after him just seems “like the right thing to do.”
At the same workshop, Councilor Claude Morgan said DiPietro’s “contributions have been great enough and substantive enough where we would certainly want to recognize him.”
“I think this provides identity and a great memorial. And the location couldn’t be better, either,” Morgan said.
At the Monday night meeting, Cohen told the DiPietro family, “I really can’t say enough how much I really respected Sam.” She thanked them for “sharing Sam with the city of South Portland.”
An official ceremony and ribbon-cutting for the newly named park will take place next spring.
The South Portland City Council unanimously renamed the park near the intersections of Cottage Road and Pillsbury and Davis streets for Santo “Sam” DiPietro, who died at the age of 81 last month. The park is across the street from DiPietro’s Market.