Geniale (Geno) Russo was born on September 25, 1915 in Cleto, Cosenza, Calabria. He was the second eldest of eight children. When his father died at an early age, he was forced to quit school, and began to work in the olive fields.
Pictures show that Geno was an attractive, young man and this did not escape the eye of Maria Filice, a beautiful 16 yr old from Aiello, a neighbouring village. Geno and Maria soon fell in love and were married. They started a family of their own, with the arrival of Antonia.
The late 1930’s were a difficult time in Italy so Geniale was forced to leave his young family and go off to war. Upon capture by the opposition, he was sent to a farm in Scotland, where he was a prisoner of war for six years, spending long hours working the fields. He spoke highly of the family in Scotland with which he lived. They allowed him to send letters to Italy, and on the first communication with his wife, he was delighted to find out she in fact had been pregnant when he left in 1939, and a new daughter, Concetta, was waiting at home to meet her father.
At this farm in Scotland, Geniale began to cultivate his love for farming. He also proved to be innovative in making tools and cigarette cases as well. In his spare time, he developed his natural talent for carving. When the war finally ended, he returned to Italy, and soon the family grew to four, with the additions of John and Isa. Life in Italy continued to be difficult, and the decision to uproot the family and move to Canada was made in 1948.
Maria and the children would join him in 1951, after a memorable one week ride across the Atlantic. After stops in Golden and Winfield, the Russo family found a piece of land in Oyama, where Geniale cleared the land and planted an orchard that would be the family homestead until 1969.
The Geniale Russo family had now blossomed to a total of nine, with Gina, Clara, Lina, Eugene, and Mario being added to the roster. During the 1960’s, while the orchard was reaching maturity, Geno worked in the bush, as a faller, and lived in the logging camps, leaving John and the girls to run the orchard. After a number of years he purchased a twenty acre orchard, which he ran until 1979. The family moved to Spiers Road, Kelowna, where they spent many hours building furniture, making wine, and growing fruits and vegetables.
A wood carving that Geniale made says it all about his life. “Il panne che mangiano I nostri denti sono sudori della nostra fronte.” (The bread that you eat is attained by the sweat off your brow.) Maria passed away in 1991 and Geniale in 2001.
Cathy Risso Cundy
770 Lawrence Ave.