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Charleroi woman transitions from teacher to chef

| Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Judy Cioccio

Most people consider themselves lucky to find their calling in life – one career they truly love and excel in doing.

For Charleroi native Judy Cioccio, it seems her life's work was destined to send her in two directions.

Born and raised in Charleroi, Cioccio graduated from Charleroi High School. She earned a bachelor's degree in elementary education from California University of Pennsylvania.

Cioccio began her teaching career in 1974 at St. Michael's School in Elizabeth, teaching third grade.

She then moved on to teach at the former St. Jerome School in Charleroi.

“I taught religion as well as other subjects to the sixth- through eighth-graders,” Cioccio recalled.

In 1982, she began teaching at Transfiguration Catholic School in Monongahela (now Madonna Catholic Regional School). She taught there until her semi-retirement from teaching in 2011. She also worked at Madonna's middle school in Donora for a period of time.

During her years at Madonna Catholic, Judy taught many subjects and grade levels. To her beloved students, Cioccio was the preschool and pre-kindergarten teacher, as well as the music teacher during her last six years at the school.

Throughout her years as the school's music teacher, Cioccio directed the Christmas programs, which included singing, readings, and a multitude of characters and costumes. Always the proud teacher, Cioccio credited her students for all their hard work on the programs.

Still working part-time at Madonna Catholic as a substitute teacher, Cioccio has now found more time to invest in another love – cooking.

Born Judith Biagini, to her Italian-American mother, Rose, and Italian and French-Belgium father, Norman, Cioccio grew up next to her mother and grandmother in the kitchen. It was that same kitchen of her grandmother's house in which Cioccio still cooks for family today, since purchasing her childhood home about six years ago.

She loves cooking at home for family, which includes her husband Daniel and her mother who resides with them, as well as the Cioccios' two sons Ryan and Chris when they visit along with their families. Cioccio's father passed away in 1977, and her only sibling, Robert, passed away in March.

“When my grandmother was alive, we used to prepare a traditional Italian Christmas Eve dinner, including wedding soup and the Feast of the Seven Fishes,” Cioccio explained. “However, the next generation's tastes tend to be for spaghetti or turkey on holidays.”

Although she loves cooking for family, which now includes four grandchildren, Cioccio spends most of her time cooking for people throughout the Valley as she has been working for the past three years at Ponce's Place in Monongahela.

“I actually taught the owners' son at Madonna Catholic Middle School,” Cioccio said.

She helps cook the food and helps with the catering events such as weddings, parties, funerals, baptisms, and other events.

Cioccio's kitchen resume includes having worked for Costa's Catering in Donora in the summers and on weekends while teaching. Before that, it was the restaurant in G.C. Murphy in Charleroi that gave Cioccio her start in the kitchen.

“I was the first waitress hired at the restaurant,” she said. “It was around 1967 or 1968. I would make hoagies.

“I put myself through college working there.”

Looking ahead to 2014, Cioccio expects to keep busy as usual, with working and spending time with family.

Her family will, of course, begin the new year with a delicious meal that includes a traditional pork dish and a quarter placed under each person's plate.

“It's for good luck,” she explained. “It's an Italian tradition passed down from my grandmother.”

In the summer, the Cioccios plan to visit their son, Ryan, his wife, and their granddaughter in Erie.

Cioccio and her husband are able to spend time with their son, Chris, and his wife and children more often since they live in Greensburg.

Food, family, and fun are on her agenda for 2014 – a recipe Cioccio believes adds up to happiness.

Miranda Startare is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.