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Cape Coral pioneer Raso passes away

By Staff | Dec 16, 2011

dwinchester@breezenewspapers.com

Cape Coral pioneer Grace Raso passed away Sunday, Dec., 13 at the age of 84.

She was matriarch of one of the original Cape Coral families, the Rasos, who settled in Cape Coral in 1960.

At the time of her arrival, Cape Coral was nothing more than a vision of Jack and Leonard Rosen. There were no roads, no infrastructure – no city, just a blank canvas that her family helped to shape through the years.

Her husband of 51 years, Joseph Raso, worked for the Rosen’s Gulf American Corporation during that time.

That first year in Cape Coral, as the development began taking shape, Grace had difficulty adjusting this new Florida lifestyle, according to her daughter Gloria Raso Tate.

The family arrived on the day that Hurricane Donna came plowing through Florida.

Grace had her mother and father, her four daughters and a fifth on the way when she pulled into Cape Coral. The fifth child, a girl, would be named after the infamous hurricane.

“The first six months she was always leaving,” Tate joked. “She and my sister packed and went to the bus station many times.”

There were less than 300 people in what would eventually become Cape Coral and the Raso family made up 10 of that number.

Grace would quickly become the matriarch for many others in the burgeoning community, creating a family like atmosphere for all to enjoy.

“We were unified as one large family,” Tate said of her mother. “If one family hurt, we all hurt. If one family ate, we all ate. It was a true community.”

One of Grace’s most significant contributions to the community, that many still enjoy today, was the formation of the Cape Coral Italian American Club.

Joe and Grace were the first president and first lady of the club, Tate said.

“My mom and dad wanted a place where they could recognize their heritage and celebrate who they were,” she added.

City Historian Paul Sanborn said the Italian American Club was one of the first organized clubs in the city and the first to have their own building.

Sanborn worked with Joe Raso at Gulf American Corporation and he said he considered the Rasos to be good friends.

“She’ll be remembered forever because of the club and the community will miss her greatly,” Sanborn said. “They contributed a tremendous amount to the community in those early days.”

Tate said her mother’s legacy is not only her children, but also the city of Cape Coral, which she had a hand in shaping during those very early years.

It was a hard life, at first, but as the development began to take shape, and the community began to bloom, it was the Rasos, and Grace, who helped to make it all happen.

“It’s extremely important people understand the history of this city and how hard people worked in the pioneer days,” Tate said. “They put a blueprint together that forever solidified the city. They had one common goal, to create a waterfront wonderland. That, and family, were the most important things.”

Grace is survived by five daughters, Cathy Sangiovanni, Gloria Tate, Diane Strack, Debbie Raso and Donna Jo Cottrell; six grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by Joseph, her husband of 51 years.

A funeral mass will be conducted Wednesday, Dec 21, at 10 a.m., at St. Katherine Drexel Church in Cape Coral. Burial will follow at Coral Ridge Cemetery.

The family will receive friends Tuesday at Fuller Metz Funeral Home in Cape Coral from 4-7 p.m., with a celebration of life to begin at 7.