1933 - 2018 (84 years)
||Immacolata "Gina" |
||1 Dec 1933
||Naples, , Campania, Italy
||Gina's Spa |
||Immacolata "Gina" DeCicco |
|Eby ID Number
||5 Sep 2018
||16 Jul 2019 |
|Born - 1 Dec 1933 - Naples, , Campania, Italy
- Business savvy founder of Gina's Spa was a pioneer in terms of esthetics
Immacolata (Gina) DeCicco of Waterloo, born: Dec. 1, 1933 in Naples, Italy, died: Sept. 5, 2018 of age related illness
by Valerie Hill Waterloo Region Record
WATERLOO \emdash When Gina DeCicco arrived in Kitchener from Naples, Italy in 1967 with her husband Ciro and their children Andrew, Maria, Cristina and Jenny, she must have felt very alone.
What she had left behind was everything she knew: parents, nine younger siblings, friends and home. In this strange new place where she didn't speak the language, where her skills as an esthetician were not yet appreciated, Gina forged a new, unchartered path.
One of the first issues she faced was the Sunday promenades she was used to back home. Kitchener was much sleepier than Naples.
Daughter Jenny DeCicco remembers being dressed up in their Sunday finery then after church the whole family headed to King Street, hoping to find the same sort of socializing that was common in Italy.
"You could have shot a cannon down the street," said Jenny of the totally empty streets. "There was only one restaurant open."
In this strange new place, Gina suffered culture shock and she underwent periods of depression but she was not easily beaten.
In less than a decade she would be the owner of Gina's Spa, today located on Regina Street in Waterloo and one of the most successful spas in the region.
Grandson, Vince DeCicco, in a tribute to his Nonna said "Anyone that knew her could tell you how fierce she was, she had to be.
"Starting your own business isn't easy for anyone, let alone an Italian immigrant speaking little English, a mother of four and in the 1960s, 1970s to boot."
He spoke of his grandmother's kindness, her generosity and sense of humour.
Granddaughter, Amalia Ramirez, remembered her grandmother's grace.
"My Nonna was the most elegant and inspiring person I've ever known," recalled Amalia. "She faced incredible adversity in her life - living through the war, an illness and immigrating to Canada with four small children without knowing a word of English. But throughout her life she never lost her love for beauty."
Gina and Ciro came to Canada during a time of economic struggle in Italy. Ciro was a skilled cabinetmaker and in Italy he had done well, but times grew tough and there were those four little mouths to feed.
Jenny said a friend of her father's suggested the family follow him to Canada, land of opportunity. But what Ciro didn't know was that his friend hadn't sold everything in Italy. He left a little safety net, unlike Ciro. When they sailed across the Atlantic, nothing was left behind and therefore nothing to return to, unlike his friend who did return.
The Canadian government was supporting immigrants at the time but they wouldn't have an choice where they would be placed. The DeCiccos were destined for the predominately German city of Kitchener, even though nearby Guelph was where there was a large population of Italian immigrants.
Jenny said as they travelled across the country heading to Kitchener, the family went through thriving cities such as Montreal and Toronto, places her parents really wanted to settle, but couldn't.
So Kitchener it was, and even with Ciro's woodworking skills he struggled a bit, tried woodworking on his own for awhile but that wasn't successful so he opened a gift and framing shop in Belmont Village.
"My mom had to work," said Jenny. "She'd trained as an esthetician in Italy but people didn't go to estheticians (in Kitchener) in 1967.
"She had to sell herself, sell her services."
Capri Salon hired Gina to do manicures and she was finally able to start building a clientele using her skill, charm and good humour, said Jenny. Still, Gina wasn't satisfied.
"She was tired of just doing nails, she had so much more to offer," said Jenny. "In the basement of the Waterloo Hotel, she opened her own business." Gina's Spa was the first of its kind in Waterloo Region.
There were other businesses in that basement and as each one closed shop, Gina took over their space. After 10 years, Gina felt her business had outgrown the basement so one day, she knocked on the door of a large brick home on Regina Street, near the hotel.
The house wasn't for sale, but obviously Gina planted a seed because the owners did sell to her. Then began the job of ripping off old wallpaper, painting the place, installing sinks and equipment, all the accoutrements of a salon and spa.
"My dad, my brother, we all pitched in," said Jenny.
When Gina officially closed the hotel basement location and opened this new space in 1979, she had a loyal clientele who followed her to new digs.
"We expanded a few times since then," said Jenny, the spa's director and operator.
She added that her mother was a pioneer in many ways, bringing a European sensibility about beauty and self care to Kitchener-Waterloo. When it was difficult to find trained staff, Gina opened Gina's College of Advanced Aesthetics, which now has three locations. It was one of the first such training colleges in the country.
Gina, always the smart businesswoman, was ahead of the curve in many ways. She began selling an exclusive line of professional grade products imported from Italy. Daughter, Cristina Ramirez runs that end of the business.
Gina retired at age 55 turning the business over to her daughters and as she got older, her health suffered.
Gina was born in Naples, Dec. 1, 1933, with a hip problem, placed in a cast as a child but the leg never fully developed so she always walked with a limp.
"She had so many operations," said Jenny. "That was a big part of her life."
Gina eventually went from cane to walker to wheelchair to scooter and she refused to take the high powered pain killers prescribed. She would rather suffer through excruciating pain than through the fogginess caused by medication. Gina always needed to be in charge of her wits, to be engaged with everything and everyone around her.
She died Sept. 5, the result of multiple health problems. Ciro had died of cardiac arrest in 2009.
"She was a perfectionist," said Jenny. "She had very high standards for everything and she wouldn't compromise her standards."
As a mother and grandmother, Gina used food as a way to share love and remember her beloved Naples. She shared this love of food and as an exceptional cook, no one pulled away from the table with an empty tummy.
Vince recalled "Her cooking was legendary, and we often had a hard time explaining to our friends why dinner began at 3 p.m. and ended around 9 p.m."
Jenny added "the meal was a very important part of the family, we weren't allowed to miss it."
Hill, V. (2018). Business savvy founder of Gina's Spa was a pioneer in terms of esthetics. TheRecord.com. Retrieved 23 September 2018, from https://www.therecord.com/news-story/8920031-business-savvy-founder-of-gina-s-spa-was-a-pioneer-in-terms-of-esthetics/