Salvatore “Sam” Prestianni, a retired head of the Social Security Administration who trained youth baseball in Catonsville, died of Parkinson’s disease complications on April 9 at his home in Ellicott City. He was 90.
He was born in Baltimore and was the son of Sicilian immigrants, Frank Prestianni, an office assistant in the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and Katie Liberto, a homemaker.
He grew up in downtown Baltimore near Lexington Market and spent his childhood in a townhouse on Greene Street. He was baptized in St. John the Baptist Church (now St. Jude Shrine).
“The house was filled with extended family, including aunts and uncles and cousins and three sisters,” said his son Sam Prestianni. “They were active in the St. John’s community, loved church events like street fairs, bingo nights, spaghetti dinners, the annual May Procession led by the Knights of the Italian-American community.”
His son said Mr. Prestianni went to St. John’s School, where the nuns taught him to take care of his language.
“My father later wrote in a memoir: ‘The first admonition I received from the nuns was for my bad mouth. I used to pour freely; it was the language I was used to both in the house and on the street. But they put the fear of God in me. I remember I promised I would never swear again. And I did not. “
At the age of 10, Mr. Prestianni began working at the Lexington Market selling shopping bags and quickly joined his mother’s cousin Carmello Liberto, who ran a fruit and vegetable stall.
“My eyes were definitely opened from here and out as I got all the tricks of my life by working there until I graduated from college, about 11 years later,” Mr Prestianni wrote in his memoir, “Fast Years.”
He played baseball in parking lots near Lexington Market and went to as many minor league Orioles games as he could sneak into. He dreamed of playing in the major leagues, his son said.
When his hometown formed a Little League team, he was one of the first to join. He played basketball, baseball and football at Calvert Hall College High School and at what is now Loyola University Maryland, where he took a degree.
In his memoirs, Mr. Prestianni that he walked a few streets to get movies in the Stanley, Mayfair and Howard theaters. He enjoyed dancing and attending music events at the Cahill Recreation Center near Walbrook, the Old Fourteen Holy Martyrs Church and the Alcazar Ballroom on Cathedral Street. He also danced on moonlight cruises aboard Chesapeake Bay excursion boats.
He served in the Army and worked in a traveling auditing firm in Salt Lake City and San Francisco from 1954 to 1956. Prestianni met his future wife, Margaret Mary Kantzes, in Ocean City. They married in 1964.
Educated in mathematics and accounting, Mr. Prestianni fascinated by numbers – he calculated odds and enjoyed studying strange number coincidences and sports statistics.
“He never played on horses with big money because he was too careful,” his son said. “Still, he often came home with decent wins.”
He went into accounting. Among his jobs were positions in the old Baltimore Transit Co., Glenn L. Martin Co. and the Federal Power Commission. He joined the Social Security Administration in 1963.
Mr. Prestianni moved through the ranks as an accountant, auditor, analyst and director. He retired in 1990 as a special assistant to SSA’s then CFO Norman Goldstein.
Mr. Prestianni was awarded the Ministry of Finance’s first annual prize for excellence in cash management.
After moving to Catonsville, he coached baseball, soccer and basketball teams for the old Catonsville Midget League and basketball for St. Louis. Mark’s Roman Catholic Church.
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“Sam was a mix of Damon Runyon and Walt Disney,” said Pastor Christopher Whatley, a former St. Mark’s pastor. “He knew you always needed a few characters in your life, and he always saw the good in others. His role was to make those he loved happy, especially his children and grandchildren.”
“My father was an inspiring coach because he always made sure that everyone on the team had playing time, and when his team crushed the opponent, he would give the kids on the bench more time to play so the result would not be complete. Blowout,” said his son. “He also held festive team parties with trophies and pizza at the end of each season.”
After the death of his first wife in 1983, Mr. Prestianni married Bobbie Reinecke Mitchell, an artist and nurse. They lived in Ellicott City.
His son said that Mr. Prestianni was a spiritual person. He was initially reluctant to remarry after the death of his first wife. When a rose they had planted many years before came back to life after lying dormant near a religious shrine in his backyard, he took it as a sign.
Survivors include his wife of 22 years, Bobbie Reinecke Mitchell, a nurse and artist; five sons, Frank Prestianni of Owings Mills, Sam Prestianni of Oakland, California, Bill Prestianni of Eldersburg, David Prestianni of Hagerstown and Jack Prestianni of Pompano Beach, Florida; two daughters, Julie Prestianni of Relay and Nancy Prestianni of Elkridge; and 12 grandchildren.
Services were held last Wednesday at the Church of the Resurrection in Ellicott City.