The ballroom glittered, the guests waited expectantly and the author arrived for the book signing. She wasn’t a visiting celebrity, however, but one of the audience’s own, 96-year-old Genevieve Sanfelippo, better known as “Grandma Gen.” A resident for 12 years at the Milwaukee Catholic Home, Grandma Gen was honored recently for publishing “The Adventures of Peter Churchmouse,” a story she created for a birthday celebration for her great grandchildren six years ago.
“The Adventures of Peter Churchmouse”
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Grandma Gen responded to her introduction by reading a short paragraph about the mouse who dwelt in a pump organ in a church in Kewaskum. Then, like any savvy, experienced author, she advised the audience to “buy the book to read the rest of the story.” They did until the supply ran out and the author promised to order additional copies.
The proceeds of book sales will go toward a memorial fund created by the publishers Robert and Lisa Bruce in memory of Robert’s mother, Pat Bruce, who lived at the home from 2001-2004. The fund will help finance new chairs for the home’s theater where Pat Bruce had enjoyed frequent movies.
The story of how this tale of a mouse that became a resident of Grandma Gen’s Shorewood home when she bought the pump organ and then how the story became a real hard-covered book illustrated by Dr. Robert Bruce, a pediatrician, is a marvel of events. Grandma Gen recalls meeting the Bruce grandchildren during their visits to their own Grandma Bruce, then typing up copies of her story and mailing them to the Bruce youngsters in Colorado as a “memory” of their visit to Milwaukee.
Readers may remember the Bruce Publishing Company that long existed in Milwaukee. Bob is the grandson of William Bruce, the founder. He is a practicing physician in Colorado, and his wife, Lisa is involved in Blue Oink, LLC, a publishing firm in Fort Collins, Col. As a courtesy, they provided copies to Grandma Gen and will continue to do so on a limited basis.
Grandma Gen graduated from Holy Angels Parish grade school and Messmer High School from which she received a scholarship to Mount Mary College. She attended Mount Mary for two years before marrying Dr. Michael Sanfelippo, a neurologist. They had two sons, Dr. Peter Sanfelippo, a thoracic surgeon, and Dr. Michael Sanfelippo, a pathologist with the Marshfield Clinic. The family belonged to St. Robert Parish most of their lives.
“My Catholic education permeated my life,” she explained. “Even as a child I learned from him (my father) to rely on the Blessed Mother. Whenever he had a concern, he turned to her and said, ‘Blessed Mother, help me!’ And I’ve done the same thing.”
Never trained as a journalist, Grandma Gen nevertheless felt compelled to write a memoir about her father’s life so that her children and grandchildren would know of his courage. Ignatius emigrated from Italy when he was 16. He struggled to grow a fruit and vegetable business while caring for his three young children following the death of his wife. Genevieve became, she said, an “instant mother” to her younger siblings at the age of 6.
She joined a writing class at the residence taught by Sally Hickey for residents interested in writing their memoirs. She became the “roving reporter” for the weekly newsletter and is known for her uplifting and sometimes humorous reports.
“I always try to inject something positive into my writing,” she said.
Grandma Gen is at work on a sequel.
“I’m putting the mouse into a time-travel going back to the 1940s era because that was when President Franklin D. Roosevelt was in his unprecedented third term as president of the United States. The second World War and coupon rationing were happening. Then the ‘50s and ‘60s when protests were common and young people ignored laws, even their parents’ advice. It should be interesting,” she said.
What motivates Grandma Gen to keep writing?
“Just simple pleasure. Pure pleasure,” she said.
Last year Grandma Gen was honored by the Milwaukee Catholic Home as “volunteer of the year” for her work as a roving reporter for the weekly newsletter and her work in the chapels.