Column – Statue preserves an immigrant family’s beautiful story

Published 6:57 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2024

It has been said until it has become our most overused cliche that we are a nation of immigrants — universally said, and almost universally misunderstood.

I had the high honor a couple of months ago to learn more about a family of immigrants who for two generations, going on three, have lived among us, worked among us and prospered among us, all the while loving and caring for each other. 

Vincent Carollo, owner of our much-loved Anna’s Restaurant, asked that I make a few remarks during the unveiling of a statue at the school property adjacent to Historic St. Luke’s that he purchased a couple of years ago. He has since renovated the property and is now renting it out, again as a school. 

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At the property’s entry, he created a tiny garden to accommodate a beautiful bronze statue, which he had commissioned for the site. This lovely work of bronze, titled “Hope and Faith,” depicts young children climbing rocks, and the child at the apex is releasing a dove. 

The statue, together with a bronze plaque, were dedicated to Vincent’s parents, Natalie and Josephine Carollo, whose lifelong story of love, family and hard work he hoped to capture in the statue and honor with the event. (Josephine died several years ago.)

In preparation for that occasion, I learned something of the senior Carollos’ impressive history. Both Natalie and Josephine emigrated from their native Sicily after World War II. They met in the Bronx, fell in love and married. 

Natalie worked on construction jobs and Josephine sewed garments in a factory.

They hadn’t been married for long, however, when Josephine’s brother-in-law Sal encouraged them to move to Virginia, and here their business history began. They settled on the Peninsula and quickly opened the first Anna’s Pizza in Buckroe, named for Josephine’s mother.

Soon, other eateries followed and then, in 1979, the Carollos looked westward to Smithfield, a community just then beginning to see the emergence of subdivisions and outlying businesses. They rented a space in the new Smithfield Square Shopping Center and opened another Anna’s.

Across Church Street, another entrepreneur had built a substantial building to accommodate a Dairy Queen. That business didn’t last for long and the building came on the market. Natalie Carollo jumped at the chance, purchased the property, and opened what would ever since be known as Anna’s Restaurant. On a cold January day in 1982, the family packed up and moved across the street. Vincent, then about 10, pushed carts loaded with chairs across Church Street, which at the time was still two-lane. 

The Carollos continued expanding their businesses, opening more than a dozen Anna’s throughout the region, in time selling some and making other business changes they felt were warranted.

Vincent, who prefers to be known as his parents have known him, as Vinny, has continued the family’s eye for business and Smithfield has benefited with each new endeavor. In addition, he has been an active Chamber of Commerce member as well as a board member of Historic Smithfield, Inc.

Outside of business, he and his wife, Josephine, bought the Todd House and fully restored that early seat of local business, a restoration that had been unsuccessfully tried by several different owners over a period of a half-century.

Along the way, he has never lost sight of family and its importance, and that may be the Carollos’ most lasting legacy and contribution to our community. Both Vinny and his father, Natalie, were brought to tears as the statue and plaque were unveiled recently. The tribute to his parents, also cast in bronze, is worth repeating, for it says much about this remarkable family:

“Through all my years, individually, as parents together, you have been the conclusive example of giving all your love, understanding, patience, work ethics and so much more, to me and my family. Your unconditional love is now evidence of our success as a family.”

A beautiful sentiment from a grateful son. 


John Edwards is publisher emeritus of The Smithfield Times. His email address is