John Boniello and Louise Prairie

Recorded January 10, 2008 Archived January 10, 2008 01:09:02 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: MBX003380


Louise Prairie interviews John Boniello, her father, on the occasion of his 80th birthday. He talks about growing up on his family’s farm in upstate New York; driving a tractor trailer at age 13 from upstate to NYC to deliver vegetables to the city during World War II; and his decision to leave the family farm and begin his own business in Florida, Boniello Homes.

Subject Log / Time Code

During World War II, John’s mother grew a victory garden, and it was often full of squash. Since John didn’t like squash, he released a pig into the garden, only to have it eat everything but the squash.
John was awarded an all-expense paid football scholarship to Syracuse University, but his father refused, saying he needed help on his family farm.
John remembers first meeting Mr. Guiliani, his wife Rose Marie’s, father.
The day Johnny, John’s son, was born, he snuck up to the delivery room and made sure his son wasn’t circumcised.
John recalls an Ex-Lax joke he played on his Uncle Alfredo from Italy, who lived with John’s family on the farm in upstate New York.


  • John Boniello
  • Louise Prairie

Recording Location

MobileBooth East


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00:00 That'll be my recording.

00:08 My name is Louise Prairie. I'm 53 years old and I live in Longwood Florida. Today is January 10th 2008 and I'm interviewing my father Giovanni John Gaetano. Boniello on the occasion of his 80th birthday. He currently resides in Apopka, Florida and part-time in San Giorgio Del. Sannio. Italy. Happy birthday, Daddy.

00:32 I thought it would start our interview by playing a shorter version of that childhood game 20 questions. I'll ask you a quick question and you give me a quick answer. Where were you born? What were your parents names? How many brothers and sisters? Did you have two brothers? And how many first cousins?

00:56 I have to say be in the 200 number which is kind of surprising not very many people have 200. What is your wife's name? How long have you been married?

01:09 61 years. How many children did you have or how many grandchildren do you have?

01:17 10 12 12 how many great-grandchildren and how many great-grandchildren do you have name the cities where you and Mom have lived?

01:31 I have to tell you the world you've lived the world around the world. Wow, that's a good one, but you have lived mostly in.

01:44 At what place that you visited was your favorite?

01:51 Used to be Italy

01:53 What's your favorite color?

01:56 Blue, what's your favorite song?

02:08 Let me have the last dance with you. May I have this dance for the rest of my life? Is that the one that what's your favorite dessert?

02:18 Spaghetti, that's your favorite dessert. And what's your favorite Italian Dish?

02:26 Actually

02:29 I thought you would say mommy. Who's your favorite number three daughter?

02:38 Daddy it's my understanding that your parents were married in Italy and they immigrated to America shortly after they got married and then shortly after that. You were born. I want to know about your childhood. Was it happy? Did you have a nice childhood? What was life growing up? Like on the farm delicious delicious been good to us and we had fun. They never hit us and they just enjoyed us like we enjoy them. Can you tell me a story about something that happened on the farm?

03:16 Yes, a lot of things happened on the farm. Would you want to hear about alfredo?

03:24 I could hear about alfredo or I can hear about the garden when we were in years old.

03:36 My mother had a victory garden that was during the war.

03:41 The World War II

03:43 And in her garden, she had everything.

03:47 And this one time she had squash Google Google Chili's and we ate Google CEO squashes all week long.

03:57 Every well I'm going to put a stop to it. So what I did and had a gate around it a fence around it. I put a pig in there.

04:06 Well that Pig Ate Everything But the squash everything and nobody answered before my mother died a few years ago. She asked me if she says John you got to tell me the truth.

04:24 Who put the pig in the garden with Mom? I got to tell you the truth as young as I did not know it but you still had to eat the zucchini squash Daddy back in the farm days. I remember you telling us stories in the past about the fact that you had to drive a tractor trailer at a early age. How old were you and how come you were driving a trailer and young men?

05:02 And or do in the army they were in the Army and

05:08 They couldn't get anybody to work on a farm. So my father went to the farm bureau him and told him that I have to get a license and I was 13 years old and he has to drive this truck to New York City. So what I 13, I was driving a trailer to New York City from house fire away 60 miles from Farm to the city and I drove that tractor trailer back and forth every day for six days a week. And what were you delivering to the city every day for couples?

05:44 And 13 years old young age to be driving a tractor-trailer. That's for sure, especially into New York City. I know that you were the oldest child and you had to leave high school to work on the farm when you were in high school. I know you played football for you a good player. How good

06:13 And did you enjoy playing football and

06:20 In like middle of two stones. In fact in Dave made for plays after me on the other one, two, three and four and those are the plays that they use till I was sixteen when I quit school, which I only went to the 9th grade.

06:38 In the

06:40 We had a good time. And the reason you left school was and why couldn't he get help or so most of the older people were in the war? They've been drafted into the war or volunteered for the war. So you left school to to work on the farm to work?

07:07 Of course. I was awarded the scholarship to Syracuse University all-expenses-paid.

07:17 And my father won't let me go into code just come over to the house. And then my father has let me go up there. I got to have money Farm.

07:27 So I lost out on that. So that was a disappointment, but I

07:38 I have to do is go there and I'm sorry that you missed out on that cuz I know that would have been a special time and I know that part of the time while you were playing football mom knew about you so tell me about meeting Mom and when did you know that Mom was the girl that you would marry?

08:03 And

08:06 We will be there school all the time. So mommy at that time used to be the school used to do the the book.

08:16 In the school newspaper, you have to break the legs and number 10, which was me.

08:26 And that was it finally.

08:30 What did The Story Goes three or four different stories now going to take a while?

08:44 Lost that's okay.

08:49 And I'll go back there a little bit more in.

08:53 That's okay. Mommy was in the school newspaper and she wrote that they had to break the legs of player number 10.

09:06 In the start off before. I'll go back one more stage. Okay, we used to go watch my in the whole pack.

09:16 Bowling alley

09:21 I think she room in there and Mommy used to go to the dance with her class and it was 10 of them all the time every week or every week was the same 10.

09:30 And I told everybody that I was going out what I did you see that girl over there. I'm going to marry her.

09:36 He's a John Hughes ever going to get in there either. Those guys are going to kill you to soothe Five Guys. They all stick together and you got to worry about the father worried about them as I got you and I so we can knock the hell out of both of them. We don't have to worry about them is not worried about the father.

09:57 So so so happened that we had to go to a basketball game.

10:03 And walk up to me and he says Johnny says

10:06 I made a blind date for you and I is it one of those nice girls?

10:13 And he says no is it ain't one of those girls?

10:16 I want one of those girl don't give me the

10:25 He said I'll bring it to the house and get in my car and we'll go to the game. I have my girlfriend you got your girlfriend.

10:33 So I knocked at the door first, I walk up in the mailbox. Is there no name on the mailbox. I said who could this be?

10:42 So I walked inside and I knocked on the door.

10:45 And she answers the door and I don't know it was her and I almost died. I was so happy and we went to the game.

10:54 And I want to go back to that store again. And then after the game we went to the Pizzeria and I always say that every time we went out to get it at night. Mommy was like an octopus with your hands.

11:15 And that was it and it was very good and her father met me when I was 14 years old when we built the barn on the farm in those days you feel to farm country allow with you but not a house. You're allowed to build.

11:32 Farming areas, but you can't build houses.

11:37 But you can eat on to it. But if I got a hold of us that you and your honey mustard Rihanna was Rose Marie's father and he kept looking at me looking at me. Keep looking at me. What is he looking at before all the time? And I don't live in my fly was open or something. You're not my phone a nice Italian boy for you and she's just popped. I don't want to marry Italian. I don't want to cook my cronies everyday. I want a nice tall Irishman.

12:13 We went up together and

12:21 Two weeks. We got we made it back mode. Mommy, and I and I will

12:27 Go together, and we went together and we got engaged at the 18 and we got married at nineteen. Did you have that traditional Italian wedding? How did Mommy look?

12:46 We had a big big party and we went to dinner tonight that day and we had a beautiful party and around 11:00 was time to go home.

12:57 And we were on our way to a honeymoon.

13:02 And everything was going good. I told you stories and I tell you I don't know Daddy said you went to bed and

13:16 We had a good time in the morning. She looks at me and she says Oh, Daddy.

13:23 Did I tell you about this one night and grandma grandma grandma says that way you put it between your legs.

14:02 So we went out and I will still my meds mommy. Let me feel my money.

14:08 So she she goes like that. She has Daddy week left the money at the hotel. She says and I hope I didn't flush it down. The toilet is oh my God will run back to the hotel. We look in the toilet all my goodness. So we took it all apart and next morning when he was drive by guess. That's what happens when you get married at 19 years old. You're not sure where you're putting your money. And how was that Daddy? I I've always thought you were a particularly romantic man. I remember you giving Mommy roses from our backyard and I remember you leaving her little love notes all around the house you and your love for each other has been a wonderful part of our family describe your love for mommy to me.

15:08 Mommy's been good to me all the way through we have never argued who never fight we had disagreed a little bit but we always agreed to before we went to bed. It is not a night that we don't go to bed rail hold hands or back to buy back-to-back Summit to stomach over you want to call it, but we always was close to one another and that's still true today.

15:32 I held her in my arms last night because it's my birthday today. Well, let's talk a little bit about business big part of your life. And in the early 50s my memory it was the early 50s you and mom made a decision to move away from the family farm in New York. And I know that must have been a hard decision was moving away from your family a difficult thing to do. Tell me about it. Good morning. I moved. My father says I hope you go bankrupt.

16:06 Mason Supply pipe, what are you saying? Isn't what you come back?

16:11 Well, we got to Florida then I found a place. I started the building and everything went good grab them grab a come down to see me and he said Johnny you doing beautiful.

16:23 Keep going in there. We are used to come down and spend the winter with me.

16:28 That is good. There's a saying in life that goes the harder you work the luckier you are and I think that fits you very, well you started the construction business. Once you arrive to Florida who taught you how to build a house.

16:45 When New York you want to come down here was just a little bit of difference home. We had up a wooden petition down here. We had a block petition and I watch the other ones and I kept going from there.

17:01 Well, boniello homes turned out to be a very successful business. I know you came down with just a little bit of money to start a new life, but I know it was a became a very successful business at its height when you were really going full strength with Bonnie alcohol on how many individual pieces of property. Do you think you owned was the max of my building career and we had over 800 apartments that we owned and rented it over 200 offices.

17:37 We own in rented.

17:40 End

17:42 It was you that was in against and everything just was good in mommy's work in the office and took care of things while I was peeling. I broke 17 ribs if you remember in 36 fractures, I remember it was a horrible car accident but and it was in Italy so you weren't near us and it was frightening for our family to have you away and have that accident and we waited weeks for you to come home. It was very frightening.

18:15 Go back to the business a little bit. Was there anyone in business who you would say was a mentor for you or who helped you or guided you at all in business or was it actually was Mommy? Cuz she was my backup put the one that really helped me a lot with the president of the First Federal Bank in Florida, Fort Lauderdale, and that was his Protege and I don't know what Protege was.

18:43 And when I found out that I've been meant being good. Everything was good. Then they back me up to the day. He died tell me about getting the first loan for your business. First only gave to me only a couple hundred dollars and I went to him mommy and I had my

19:06 Paper Rihanna with all the figures on and he looks it over and he's is Johnny. You don't have much money as an English. You're right. Cuz if I did I wouldn't be here.

19:23 And then whatever I wanted money. All I have to do is call him in and then my money was ready and how many years total do you think you work with Mr. English the banker English Sadie when he retired?

19:38 He called my office and he

19:42 Go to my wife in you just not want to talk to John John's working. She's a lot get him and he come down to the you come right down to the office and he's don't you cut don't let him come on. I want you to come with him. So mommy came down with me and he got me in there. And he says I've been watching you for 25 years. You never had any any title any marks name. You never had any marks against done any of your jobs. You never have it in bed inspections. Everything just went beautiful and I'm very proud of you. And that was it and he died just have to let go really use a somewhat remember him. I I think I remember who he was. I remember. Mr. Dial The Man from the other bank. That was another one. I remember I remember when we used to go to the bank cuz we used to have to come and work at the office. Everybody took their turn working at the office. And I know when we used to work at the office and we have

20:42 Don't bring the deposits to the bank and we would start by getting in line and someone from the back would always see you and say, mr. Boniello. Come on, and he'd bring us into the back and we never really waited in line. What about go ahead?

21:02 Dial okay.

21:05 Came to be one time when Mommy was was playing. These is Damon Smith talking together while I was depositing.

21:11 Hindalco's me back there and he's at Johnny's is I want you to quit pieces you working too hard. He's a slow down.

21:18 Places I can slow down. I just making money and I'm going to skip the making money.

21:25 So we kept talking. This is a lot of money.

21:33 You know what you buy $20,000 worth of stocks.

21:37 Isis okay by sza and we keep talking and how much your stocks are worth and he told me for so many stops. That's on my by 23000.

21:52 And I said I'll take $20,000 worth.

21:57 He said okay since you want think about it, I don't want to take it out of your account when you use the stock for collateral and I will use your money after that move. They made a change in the state of Florida.

22:12 That they can do that anymore.

22:15 Cuz it was too clever after owning and starting your own business. What about your business makes you the most proud?

22:27 Would be satisfied customers.

22:32 They used to come to me after every time we had a hurricane or something like that. They said we had a problem might as well. I'll give you money back for your house wrong and it was wrong and I usually fixed it for nothing for them. Well, that's nice cuz you could do that right tell me about buying this your business main business was in the Fort Lauderdale area and but there was a time after you've been in the business 20 or so years. I'm thinking maybe longer that you decided to buy some property in Boca Raton tell me about that property who was couple million dollars in

23:22 I was willing to buy it, but I went through was going for my closing and as we were sitting down for the closing.

23:31 He was sitting across from me. Who was the man who owned the property.

23:44 He put his feet up on the table and oh on the desk in your his feet in your face and Shepherd. I don't what to do with the money and with the land. I don't want it. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. This is what I'm not sorry, so I thought it was disrespectful the way he was treating you.

24:12 And then I stopped looking for land in that area and I bought the boniello Acres which was a huge success. How many acres of land did you buy in Boca Raton? And what year was that that land ended up being near the Polo Grounds because I remember so it turned out to be a pretty good investment for a bean Farm.

24:45 Unless not a soul in there. I got a million point billion point two and a half. So I think you did pretty well with that piece of but there's no such thing as you worked hard you make good decisions. And so you deserved what you had and you and Mom ended up living on that property. Actually there we decided it was time to quit after 52 years of the building and we moved up the book of what was the name of this street in Boca Raton.

25:21 Neil drive boniello drive, let's do some kid talk first. There was Rosaline then Tamil in and then me and then Johnny for kids. I know we had a very happy life. My memory is that there was always people coming and going in and out of the house and we have lots of parties and we had a background backyard playground and we had swimming pools and cars and boats and car. We were very fortunate fortunate family. But more than all those Frills. My memory is we had a very happy family life. We had a very traditional Italian family we cook together. We loved each other we played cards you cheat a lot of school trips.

26:16 It was wonderful. I think we just had a wonderful life and all of us are grateful for the life that we had in the way we grew up. We never needed anything and I never heard anyone say anything bad about you and my lifetime and I've always been proud to be your daughter. We're very fortunate family this interview though wouldn't be complete. If we didn't talk about the loss of your son my brother Johnny. It was a young age and it was awful. It was a crime far as I'm concerned he died and it's still hard for him. Cuz we built that Shrine in your house with the Shrine in the house remind me walk my and she cries every time to go walk my and it's been how many years is here.

27:11 So it was an awful time for us for our family and and Johnny was such a he was the heart of our family he was so funny and he didn't deserve to die at such a young age of a heart attack. He died of a heart attack.

27:28 So we've talked about the day Johnny died many times as a way to handle our grief, but I really don't remember ever hearing a story about the day Johnny was born. So tell me a story about the day Johnny was born waiting in the waiting room by me and I and a Club Portage County upstairs and baby was born yet baby wasn't born yet. So I swear I'm going to go upstairs so I can suck my wake up and I got upstairs and of course in those days you had to wait in the waiting room, didn't you?

28:07 Operating room

28:13 Circumcised and not circumcised you are kind of a head of your time because it's a good thing for Johnny. Is there a story that you'd like to tell me about that? I haven't thought to ask tell me about the Alfredo from Italy.

28:50 And he was a real pain in the neck. You put 30 in your shoes. He could turn in your pocket worn on your bed with the prankster.

29:01 Show this what day is is Johnny says you go to the store. But yeah, he says I want to quit smoking you buy me cigarettes by me the medicine to stop smoking before. I just I'm going to go down now. He's okay when you come back, I'll give you the money. I just because I know him is to see if you want to go get your things. Smoove. Give me the money when you come back then and now so he gave me the money. I went down there and I bought the chocolate.

29:41 And what you going to dive to try to talk things?

29:50 He said was sitting on the truck in and did he take the Xbox smoking is? Okay. So how many I have to take what you think there's enough.

30:12 Did you see me taste good? He's not think I have another one in three.

30:18 So he had three Xbox and he was sitting on the table here and skin. Louis give me the Wii my pants.

30:52 No, I'm pickle is going to hurt his stomach and I was watching from the model house.

31:11 And he was digging damn fine machine flip flying.

31:20 Goodnight, will go with the shovel.

31:24 Stomach still hurting again halfway up to the house to stop to go to bathroom in.

31:38 I'm actually my father coming down the road and he says.

31:43 Bill Bowerman trouble now, so I go in there and he says what's wrong with your friends.

31:51 Is it here to run to the bathroom in my father start to laugh?

31:55 I got a good appetite you got them up there and see if he's okay. I went there two days later and you come to work.

32:18 30 Lewis

32:30 Candies

32:35 It will tell you $100 for.

32:38 He's just gave me $100 Works. He's not going back. There has been many kids got a candy Co my good about it does remind me when. You were saying that I don't think I ever remember hearing you call anybody do a dirty Louis, but I always joke about our family because well because we had fat Lois Kinney Louis little Louis Louis Louis Big Louie's have a lot of Louis in our family. We only have a little bit of time live dad. So I want to ask you to have any regrets about your life.

33:36 I think I had a perfect life. I had a beautiful wife and I have beautiful children.

33:41 Is there a time in your life that if you could you would live it over again?

33:50 Of all that wonderful accomplishments you had in your life. What are you most proud of?

33:56 Compute my all my customers satisfied in my family happy. I definitely think you've kept your family happy. Is there anything you've been keeping a secret that it's time to share with me now. This is really been special to do with you today today. Daddy. Looks like our times about here, but I just wanted to say happy birthday. I love you. I love you so much. Happy birthday. Thank you.