By Pete Kennedy
Sam Cimino’s wife says that when he takes an interest in something, he’s like a dog with a bone that won’t let go.
For example, he has been involved with the Sons and Daughters of Italy for nearly four decades. He served for 30 years in the Naval Reserve, including two years deployed on the USS Champlain. He has practiced dentistry for well over 40 years. And he has been married to Patricia since 1974.
It’s a good bet that Cimino will bring the same dedication to his latest hobby: organizing the voluminous historical records he has amassed from decades in various organizations. He hopes the documents might find a home in the Lazaretto, a building in Essington that is the oldest surviving quarantine facility in the Western Hemisphere. During the 19th century, it served as an inspection station for passenger and cargo ships.
“They’re trying to make it a museum, so I’m trying to accumulate all my records and keep them in some kind of a form where we can deposit them there,” he said.
Cimino, 78, lives close to the site, in Morton, Delaware County. He grew up in South Philadelphia and credits his cousin, an orthodontist, with guiding him into dentistry. After graduating from South Philly High School in 1956, he went on to La Salle College and then received his D.D.S. from Temple in 1964.
While at Temple, he joined the Naval ROTC. As a Navy dentist, Cimino had to make sure soldiers in boot camp had teeth in “A-1 condition.” Many of the young men came from poor backgrounds, and some days he would pull 10 teeth.
His own stint on the USS Champlain, an Essex-class aircraft carrier with a complement of about 3,400 sailors, seemed relatively uneventful at the time. But years later, he read the Tom Clancy thriller “The Hunt for Red October.”
“I said, ‘Holy God, that was our mission, that type of antisubmarine warfare. That could have happened to us,’” he said. “We were doing some dangerous things. It seemed boring when we were patrolling.”
Cimino practiced dentistry on South Broad Street in Philadelphia for a couple years, and in 1970 he had the opportunity to start a practice in Concordville, a Delaware County location that swiftly evolved from farmland into sprawling suburbs.
He retired in 2013 and sold the practice, Concordville Dental, but Cimino has kept up his dentistry license and still sees patients occasionally.
He has also stayed busy with the Sons and Daughters of Italy, Historic XII October Lodge 486 in Chester. On the occasion of the lodge’s 100th anniversary earlier this year, his group presented a $100,000 check to Widener University to fund an endowed scholarship at the school.
Cimino was part of a Concordville lodge before its membership dwindled and it merged with the Chester lodge. Now, the Chester lodge is expected to merge with the Media lodge for the same reason. And that’s how Cimino has ended up with stacks of historical records that he hopes can find a permanent home at the Lazaretto, a place where so many Italians and other immigrants first arrived in America.
“It’s kind of a dream right now — a lot of things have to go right to get that project going. But if we keep interested and keep working, it’ll happen,” he said. “As long as I’m healthy, I’ll keep doing it.”