Concetta “Connie” Marie Kasten, matriarch and friend, born May 28, 1920, Bronx, New York, to Vincenzo Pitruzzello and Carmela Grasso, peacefully departed the unfaltering embrace of family love and devotion Wednesday morning at Kansas City Hospice and Palliative Care.
Connie is survived by her four children, Ken, Sharron, Kathy, and Vince, as well as her sixteen grandchildren, eighteen great grandchildren, and two great great grandchildren.
An 18-year-old working in New York, Connie succumbed to a friendly challenge and enlisted in the United States Navy. During the enlistment physical and exam, she proudly outperformed her peers and promptly landed herself on a recruiting poster, which likely did the tour. She was beautiful, classy, caring, and full of life, and it showed in every word and every smile, every gesture and every picture. While in the service, she met her husband, Ken, and shortly after discharging, they began a family and a life together. They traveled from east coast, to west coast and back, pursuing a dream and ultimately retiring together. Connie lost the love of her life in 1984, and with the support of family and friends, she continued to live on her own, strong and proud.
To all who ever had the privilege to stand or sit with her, Connie was open-handed and compassionate to no fault. It was who she was. She never missed a birthday. She dealt out “Mua Mua” smooches like they were going out of style. Her favorite foundation was Smile Train, and adorning her walls, amidst the smiling faces of family and friends, were the faces of former strangers whose smiles she’d helped restore. She loved them.
A near-centenarian, Connie carried her life acumen like a talent unrealized, untapped-unknown. But when asked by those who loved her most, she would openly tell of the things she had done, the places she had seen, the love she had found and the love she had lost, the mistakes she had made, and the lessons she had learned. If you turned off the world and prejudice, if you just committed, sunk into a chair, and listened closely, you’d discover more wisdom in just a few short moments with Connie than you’d find in a lifetime elsewhere. Following the exhaustive ups and downs of a long-distance phone conversation, upon click of the receiver, you loved her more than prior to picking up. She was sharp as a tack, and she never wavered as she carried on through life, despite her late physical frailty. She exchanged cell phone texts as though she missed the memo about 93 year olds and technology. She was tough as nails, but somehow, at the same time, she won those around her with the gentleness and innocence of a child. She somehow always exuded that gentleness, even in her final days.
Connie was one of 12 children living in close quarters in a small apartment in the Bronx. She spoke of her youth, when freshly made pasta hung about the family’s New York apartment, drying like laundry on a clothesline. It came as no surprise when she spoke of young childhood days when her mother would ask “little old” her to stay home from school to help care for ailing family members, or when she had to do the cooking for the family if her mother fell ill. “Mangia! Mangia!” she’d say, and those who thought they’d eaten enough would snap to and continue eating. She knew best, and no one ever questioned that. Nothing changed. She was stoic and dependable for almost 93 years.
Connie Kasten was the most dignified, yet transparent woman one could encounter. She was the most composed, yet expressive daughter, mother, and grandmother imagination could conjure. She was the embodiment of inspiration and admiration. She was honest, ungarnished, and above all else, real. When she talked, you wanted to sit closer and closer. You could never sit close enough. Whether a disciplining backhand across the arm, a cajoling whack to the knee, or a warm soft touch upon hand or cheek, she spoke volumes of a life that mattered. There is too much to say about Connie Kasten, and there will never be enough time to say it. There will never not be smiles upon her mention, just as there will never not be tears.
“Just wanted to hear your voice one more time…”