All of Verona’s finest signs are the work of one craftsman, Matthew BeneduceMcGrath. So when the Sellitto family decided, early this year, to commission a new sign for the revitalized Thomas J. Sellitto Field next to Verona High School, they turned to the man who could do it justice.
“He knew my dad and was so happy to do it,” says Mary Sellitto-Curcio, one of Tom Sellitto’s four daughters. “He was up at the field with me so many times and he put his heart and soul into the design.”
That was the way that BeneduceMcGrath worked, and his work rarely came with a deadline. His hand-designed and hand-carved signs were finished when he decided they were finished, and never a moment before.
On Wednesday, June 22, BeneduceMcGrath called Sellitto-Curcio to tell her he was crossing the Mississippi on his way back to Verona. He wanted to meet on Monday or Tuesday of the following to go over some revisions to the sign. He never got the chance: On Friday, June 24, BeneduceMcGrath was killed in a hit-and-run on Bloomfield Avenue in front of his business, Benegrathic Sign Design.
After the funeral, Sellitto-Curcio began asking everyone she knew if they knew any sign makers who could execute the design that BeneduceMcGrath left behind. The inquiries all led to the same person: Michael Holst of American Woodcarving in Wayne.
As it turned out, it was a prophetic connection. BeneduceMcGrath had purchased some of his tools from Holst and was a frequent visitor to a restaurant he owned. “We produced his sign pretty much as he designed it,” Holst says simply. “He did really nice work.”
There was, however, one small change. BeneduceMcGrath had designed the piece as a single-sided sign, but in its installation location it would be visible from both sides. So Holst added “Go Hillbillies” on the back. The sign will be formally unveiled tonight, Friday, October 14, at 6: 25 p.m. in a ceremony for the rededication of Thomas J. Sellitto Field.
“It was a nice thing that Mary called me to do this work,” Holst says.