Marguerite Tina Stefani, 87, manager of apartments for seniors

Posted: March 26, 2014

IT WASN'T unusual to see the attractive, stylishly dressed and coiffed redhead in the corridors of a Center City apartment building with a wrench in her hand.

Marguerite Tina Stefani had mastered the techniques of maintenance and repair by following the custodians into the boiler rooms, up on the roof or wherever work needed to be done at the 288-unit Casa Fermi at 13th and Lombard streets, where she was manager.

Coming from Mussolini's Italy before World War II and the Allied conquest during the war, and having also lived in France and Egypt, Marguerite had a world view of history and culture.

But she didn't mind getting her manicured fingernails dirty to keep the apartment building, designed for seniors, humming.

She died Feb. 28 of congestive heart failure and kidney disease. She was 87 and lived in Center City.

Marguerite, who was fluent in Italian and French but spoke little English, arrived in Philadelphia in the late '40s as a war bride, married to an American GI.

By the 1960s, she was a single parent with a teenage daughter and went to work as a hostess at Bookbinder's Restaurant. She worked there until 1972 when she took over management of Casa Fermi.

Entering the restaurant business was a natural move for Marguerite, the daughter of Domenico Stefani, a prominent Italian chef. Her mother was Maria Stefani.

She was born in Elbeauf, France, and spent her childhood there. She later lived in Alexandria, Egypt, before the family moved to Rome, where her father opened a restaurant.

"With her spirit of determination, her perfectionism and putting her residents' needs first, Marguerite was a detail-oriented manager," her family said. "The Casa Fermi residents loved her and appreciated all that she did for them.

"Even after her retirement 11 years ago, Marguerite maintained contact with many of 'her' residents."

As the daughter of Italians - a father from Venice and a mother from Friuli - Marguerite in 1989 received the knighthood designation of Cavaliere, one of five Orders of Merit of the Italian Republic.

Marguerite was a lover of the arts and music, and took full advantage of the cultural life of her adopted city. She especially loved opera, her favorite being "La Boheme." She delighted in hosting family and friends at local concerts and museums.

"Warm and vivacious, Marguerite had a finely honed appreciation of beautiful clothing, music, food and travel," her family said. "She was a wonderful cook and hostess, who had a talent for making people feel welcome."

Common Pleas Judge Annette Rizzo, a longtime friend, said she "was a lovely person, always there for you. She was able to combine old-world grace and culture with the realities of the present."

She is survived by a daughter, Diana Giordano Shelly; a granddaughter; and three great-grandchildren.

Services: Memorial Mass noon April 5, at Old St. Mary's Church, 252 S. 4th St. Friends may call at 11:30 a.m.

Donations may be made to the Casa Farnese Fund at CARIE, 100 S. Broad St., Suite 1500, Philadelphia 19110.

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