Mari Jane Petrelli passed away peacefully at her home in Las Vegas Nevada with family by her side on January 20, 2022 following a brief illness. She was born in Modesto, California on December 17, 1932.
She is survived by her three sons Joe (Debbie) Petrelli, Nick (Brenda) Petrelli, Jon Petrelli. Grandchildren Troy Petrelli, Shelbie Petrelli, Morgan Hutcheson (John) and a great grandson Jude Hutcheson. Her husband, John Petrelli passed away in 1974. Her parents were Nick and Leonardo Pantaleo of Fresno, California. Her siblings who preceded her in death included Frank (Laura) Pantaleo and Vito (Elizabeth) Pantaleo of Fresno, Anna Rocco of Waterbury, Connecticut and Vivian Martino of Modesto, California.
Her family originated in Bitritto, Italy and immigrated to the United States through Chicago and settled in Fresno, California where her father Nick Pantaleo started a thriving fruit business. Mari was the youngest of the siblings and lost her father in a tragic accident when she was 3 years old. Her brothers Frank and Vito took over the business and Mari grew up working alongside them and her mother cutting, drying, packing, and shipping grapes, raisins, peaches, plums, figs, walnuts and making olive oil. Through the years she was very close to her mother and brothers and learned old fashioned Italian family values and hard work. She greatly enjoyed trips to Pismo Beach and San Francisco with her mother. At 17 years old, Mari took great pride in driving her mom to San Francisco navigating big city traffic, the Bay Bridge and the Golden Gate Bridge!
Her passions were fashion design and cooking. She dreamed of going to fashion design school and had a school picked out in Los Angeles. Her fashion design dreams did not materialize however when she began a courtship with her future husband, John Petrelli. Her love of cooking continued to grow. She used to tell us kids that as a girl she was reading cookbooks while the other girls were reading Alice in Wonderland! To this day she had amassed a collection of over 1,500 cookbooks!
She was introduced to John Petrelli through Frank Bavaro, also from Bitritto. She fell for John who immigrated from Italy at 12 years old and grew up in Ruth and Ely, Nevada. They married in 1956 and located to Ely where our dad John, a WWII Marine veteran, worked at and owned various clubs. They relocated to Las Vegas from 1959 – 1968. Mari was a model housewife and maintained a wonderful home for her husband and three boys. It was during these years that she began entering cooking contests.
From 1961-1963 she was recognized as one of 10 state winners from Nevada in the Pillsbury Bake Off. In 1964 she earned a trip to the National Bakeoff in Miami with her Confetti Cream Torte Cake. In 1966 she won the grand prize of $25,000 in the National Bakeoff in San Francisco with her Golden Gate Snack Bread. This was a huge deal for our family, and she appeared on the front page of the Las Vegas Sun and other national publications! She appeared on national TV and us kids got to come home from school to watch her as she was announced the grand prize winner! After she won the grand prize, the Pillsbury company informed her of a company policy change that would not allow her to enter anymore because she had won so many times! In 2013 she was a guest of honor of the Pillsbury Company for the Bake Off that was held at the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas.
In 1968, John Petrelli relocated the family back to Ely to work for Bud Simpson at the Mustang Club. John left the Mustang Club after Bud’s passing two years later and came close to moving the family back to Las Vegas. Always an entrepreneur, John yearned to run his own show again and as fate would have it, the Airport Lodge, which had been shuttered for several years, was for sale. With mom’s help he scraped the money together and convinced her to support his latest crazy endeavor! After a makeover, the Fireside Inn was opened in 1970.
Our dad’s bailiwick was the front of the house, gaming, and bar business. It was not his intention to have mom cook in the kitchen but after running through several chefs, dad asked my mom if she could just try filling in while he found another chef as he was in a pinch. As it turned out she did quite well filling in. With no formal culinary training or restaurant experience she quickly mastered the menu and the kitchen and compliments poured in from the customers. She mastered the business side as well as she performed all duties in the back of house: ordering, prepping, menu planning, managing personnel and the actual evening cooking. She did the books and worked tirelessly with our dad from morning till late at night. With Mari at the helm in the kitchen, the Fireside Inn became popular for banquets, parties, and special events. Us kids cut our teeth working with mom and dad at the Fireside as well!
Although Mari could not enter the Pillsbury Bake Off, she decided to enter the National Chicken Cooking Contest. During the early years of the Fireside Inn, she earned two trips to national events. In 1971 her Chicken Breasts ala Casa Giovanni won fourth place in Ocean City, Maryland and in 1974 she earned a trip to compete in Winston-Salem, North Carolina with her Mexicali Chicken Casserole.
Sadly, our dad passed from cancer in 1974 at the age of 48. Although it was a devastating blow to our family, from that point forward Mari ran all aspects of the business. No one could out work her. She was diligent, smart, and developed the business savvy keeping the Fireside Inn viable for the next 20 years while raising her three boys. She taught us valuable lessons, loved us, and provided a loving home for us. Later she fought and won her own battle with lung cancer. Through the years she formed many long lasting, special relationships with employees, customers and had many friends. She touched many lives with her cooking and kind, generous spirit. Her battle with cancer relocated her to Reno for several years and she eventually moved to Las Vegas in 2010. Mari Petrelli will never be forgotten, and we know heaven holds a special place with all the family and friends that preceded her.
The family would like to thank all friends and family for their kind gestures, thoughts, and prayers. Also, thanks to the staff at Mountain View Hospital and Nathan Adelson Hospice during her hospital stay and final days. A special thank you to the home care workers and Melanie Petrelli who provided comfort and support to Mari during her final hours.
May you Rest in Peace in the Lord’s Loving hands Mom.
A Viewing and Rosary will be held on Thursday, February 17th at 7pm at the Mountain Vista Chapel in Ely, Nevada. A Funeral Mass will be held at Ely’s Sacred Heart Catholic Church at 11am on Friday, February 18th. A graveside service and burial at the Ely City Cemetery will follow the mass.
Pallbearers will be Troy Petrelli, Jim Petrelli, Jerry Pantaleo, Victor Martino, Randy Reck, and Nick Brockovich. Honorary pallbearers are Joel Welch and Keith Sams.
A celebration of life luncheon will be held at Mr. Gino’s Italian Restaurant following the burial. In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, PO Box 151026, Ely, NV 89315.