Discovering a long-lost friendship

Happenstance or not: A string of coincidences reignites a friendship between two families that had been dormant for more than half a century, span several generations and two continents — all in the midst of a pandemic.

| 17 Dec 2021 | 12:59

“It’s like a Hallmark movie,” said Dr. Mark Madis, Medical & Quality Director at St. Anthony Community Hospital.

And yes, indeed it is.

He was talking about a chance conversation between nurse Denise Holzhauer Jacklitsch and her post-surgical patient, Vincenza Denisi Miller.

“Denise is one of many nurses on our unit who love what they do. Well trained, compassionate,” and becoming almost a part of the family to the patient, Madis said. “The interesting part is that it could have been any of the other nurses on the floor. It happened to be Denise.”

That was the first part of a string of coincidences in a story that would reignite a friendship between two families that had been dormant for more than half a century, span several generations and two continents — all in the midst of a pandemic.

Let’s start at the beginning

In August 2020, Vincenza Denisi Miller, was recovering from surgery at St. Anthony Community Hospital in Warwick when registered nurse Denise (Holzhauer) Jacklitsch walked into her room and engaged her in conversation.

Vincenza picks up the story: “Denise spotted my name and said, ‘What a nice Italian name,’ and started asking where I was born in Italy, since her mother was born in Italy, too.”

When Vincenza replied “Curinga,” Denise said “My mother (Maria Trovato Holzhauer) came from the same village - her maiden name was Trovato.”

Vincenza said: “Oh my God, I know your mom, they came to visit us.”

“Oh my mom is going to be so excited,” said Denise, who got her cell phone and called her mom.

It turned out Vincenza not only knew Maria, but had attended her wedding.

“We started talking and reminiscing; we spoke for just a few minutes,” Vincenza said. “After I came home from the hospital, she kept in touch to see how I was doing. We reminisced about the one-room school house. What else? Oh my goodness. Some of her family still lives there and a lot of my cousins are still there. It’s a small town, around 6,000 people, everybody knows everybody.”

“We emigrated from Italy in 1954 and they came the same year,” Vincenza said. “Maria came through Ellis Island in July. They went to Long Island City and later settled in Elmhurst, Queens. We came in December ‘54, but Ellis Island was closed by then and we came in at the Port of New York and settled in Newburgh. Both families came by ship.”

Downing Park in Newburgh 1958

Maria’s family came to visit Vincenza’s family in Newburgh in 1958 and they visited Downing Park.

Vincenza did not see Maria again until the latter’s wedding in 1964 in Elmhurst, Queens.

Fifty-six years passed before they became re-acquainted in 2020.

Vincenza married in 1965 and had two children; a son John and daughter Debra. She worked at St. Luke’s Hospital as the business office manager for 15 years and later worked at the YMCA in Newburgh for 30 years.

She’s kept busy in retirement with four grandchildren. She also enjoys traveling with her church group at St. Francis, where she helped out at the soup kitchen. She also coached cheerleading and assisted in Religious Education for 20 years.

Vincenza Denisi Miller is 76 and still lives in the Town of Newburgh. Maria Trovato Holzhauer, 79, lives in Warwick, Her daughter Denise lives in Chester.

‘I never thought I would see Maria again’

Vincenza left Curinga as a child. In 2011, she returned with her brother to see cousins in Italy. “The town hasn’t changed much; like it stood still for all those years,” she said. “I never thought I would see Maria again.”

Vincenza and Maria have renewed their forgotten friendship. They met in person before Christmas last year at the Goshen Diner. Now, once a month, they have lunch there and reminisce about their lives and their home village of Curinga (often in Italian) which delights Maria’s daughter Denise.

“It’s unbelievable,” said Maria Trovato Holzhauer. “My sister Catarina was more friends with Vincenza, really. My aunt Anna, who was 6 years older than me, went out with them: the four of us used to play together. Our families were very good friends. I saw Vincenza here for the first time when our family visited theirs in Newburgh in ‘58 and not again until my wedding in 1964.”


“They’re great historians and sometimes they talk about the old days in Italy as well as present times,” said Denise (Maria’s daughter). “To this day they can’t believe that they know each other and that this happened.”

For Denise, the coincidences were nothing short of Divine Intervention.

“When Vincenza told me she believed she was at my parents wedding, I pulled out an old photo of my parents’ wedding and she confirmed it when she saw it.

“Think about it: ninety-nine percent of the time I’m on another part of the floor.”

And Denise worked two days in a row; the days Vincenza was there. Vincenza lives in Newburgh, an hour away from St. Anthony Community Hospital, yet came to St. Anthony’s because a highly recommended surgeon there was.

Curtains on the windows

“Now, we talk about the old days,” Maria said. “We had no running water, no bathroom. We’re so spoiled; here we have everything. When we lived in that town, we didn’t know any better; we thought this was the way people lived.

“There was one rich family in Curinga and they had curtains on the windows,” Maria added. “My dad emigrated a year before the rest of us, and came to Long Island City. When I arrived, I saw this thing on the windows and said to myself, ‘Oh, my God we’re rich.’”

Maria married and had three children: daughters Donna and Denise and son Bobby. She was a stay-at-home mom who went back to school in her late 30s to become a hairdresser. Now retired, she loves to spend time with her family and cook great Italian meals. According to daughter Denise, Maria makes a great pot of sauce and can make something out of nothing. She also likes to knit and make blankets, and, said Denise, “Loves to shop on QVC.”

“It’s great to connect with somebody when we knew each other as little kids,” said Maria.

Hallmark — are you reading this?