Rachelle Antonacci was the 'cookie lady' of Westmoreland Mall
Whenever Rachelle Antonacci felt sad, she packaged up a fresh batch of Belgian waffle cookies and headed to the Westmoreland Mall.
Known to some as “the cookie lady,” Mrs. Antonacci would distribute the homemade treats to her favorite store clerks, making some new friends along the way.
“Once I meet them, they’re not a stranger anymore,” the social butterfly would say, according to her son, Edward Antonacci, who described his mother as a friendly and energetic woman who loved to be around people.
Mrs. Rachelle Antonacci, 93, of Jeannette died Tuesday, July 24, at William Penn Care Center in Jeannette following heart problems and a stroke.
Born in Kontich, Belgium, Jan. 31, 1925, she was the daughter of Carolus and Josephina De Langhe Van De Vyver.
She left her family behind to join her husband, Melzi Antonacci, in the United States in 1946. Their decades-long relationship started in a Belgian cafe owned by Mrs. Antonacci’s family, where she worked as a waitress, said her son, Joseph Antonacci.
His father frequented the cafe while he was stationed in Antwerp with the Army during WWII.
When Mrs. Antonacci arrived in Jeannette, she brought bits of home with her, sharing her Flemish heritage: She loved to bake Belgian pastries and occasionally enjoyed a Belgian beer. She fiercely defended the French fry as a Belgian invention and loved to eat pickled herring.
“I think mom tried to replicate her homeland with her the best she could,” said her daughter, Kim Nolan.
Mrs. Antonacci also shared with her children some of the darker experiences she had growing up in Belgium during the Nazi occupation in the 1940s.
“They were interesting. She was pretty forthcoming with them,” Joseph Antonacci said of the stories his mother would tell of family members who worked secretly to assist the Allies. She talked about how she snuck extra food across German military checkpoints to supplement her family’s rations.
“It was amazing, really, that she got through all this,” he said. His namesake — his mother’s brother, Joseph — was forced to work in a factory by the Nazis, and escaped.
But Mrs. Antonacci wasn’t weighed down by the shadows of her youth, Nolan said. She was a warm, affectionate person who wanted to share her radiant energy with others. She loved the sun and swimming at the beach. She even knew how to juggle, convincing her grandchildren that she was part of the circus, Nolan said.
Mrs. Antonacci was a member of Ascension Church in Jeannette and its Rosary Altar Society. She was also a member of the M.S. Women’s Bocce League, the Morning Glory Bowling League, the Lincoln Heights Friendship Club and several card clubs.
Mrs. Antonacci was predeceased by her husband of 59 years, Melzi E. Antonacci, and her brother, Joseph Van De Vyver.
She is survived by her children, Edward L. Antonacci and wife Charlene, of Jeannette; Joseph M. Antonacci and wife Susan, of New Cumberland; Kim Nolan and husband John, of Wexford; as well as 14 grandchildren and several great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
Friends will be received from 9 to 11 a.m. at John Graziano Funeral Home, 228 N. Second St., Jeannette. A funeral Mass will be celebrated at 11:30 a.m. Friday in Ascension Church with the Rev. Paul A. Lisik as celebrant. Interment will follow in Sacred Heart Cemetery in Hempfield.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Ascension Church Memorial Fund, 615 Division St., Jeannette, PA 15644.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2867, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @Jamie_Martines.