Missouri Baking Co.'s Gloria and Ben Gambaro recount nearly a century of love on The Hill
Gloria and Ben Gambaro, both 94, have known each other their whole lives and still banter like sixth graders flirting over math homework. “God must’ve punished me by making me take care of him for 68 years,” Gloria teases.
Punishment for avoiding dates with Yogi Berra, apparently. “He used to always ask me out, and I’d say, ‘OK, Yogi.’ And then when he’d come to the house, I’d say, ‘I have a headache, Yogi. Let’s just stay home and play cards.’”
“Remember Joe?” Ben beams back at her. “He had the gift of gab.”
“He’d pick up my books every day and walk me home from school,” Gloria says of her former suitor. “He was the perfect gentleman.” She turns away from Ben to say, low enough for him to miss it, “Isn’t he handsome? He was always such a handsome man. Pals forever.”
Their forever is a treasure trove of Hill stories. Ben’s father started as a partner with the Missouri Baking Co. in 1924, after prominent St. Louis restaurateur Joe Garavelli asked him to leave Italy and make bread for him.
However, shortly after the bakery opened, when Ben was only 4, his mother became ill, and the family moved back to Italy for four years. “When we went back to Italy, people there said, ‘Here come the Americans,’” he recounts. “When we came back, they said, ‘Here come the Italians.’”
Ben and Gloria were married in 1949 at St. Ambrose Catholic Church with the bridesmaids wearing dresses Gloria made herself. “I wanted to make my wedding dress, too, but they said that was bad luck,” she says.
She continued sewing for people while Ben went to work at the bakery every day. For a while, they lived with three children in two rooms rented from a local gambler. “He’d charge us $25 a month for rent, utilities, everything,” Gloria says. When No. 4 came along, they moved into a house with three bedrooms. Then two more children came.
“I told my husband, I think we need to get a bigger house. So every Sunday, that was his only day off from the bakery, we’d go out and look. On the third Sunday, the children said, ‘We’re sick and tired of this! We like where we’re living, and we want to stay there.’ So I said, ‘That’s it! We’re gonna make the best of it.’” They’ve been in the home ever since.
Nightly family dinners took place around a small, round dining table, a wedding present they still use today. The kids knew to run home when they heard the factory whistles go off on Marconi Avenue at 4:30 p.m. – you could hear them throughout the entire neighborhood. If they didn’t make it home by 5 p.m., the kids would be in big trouble.
“That was the only time Ben saw the children,” Gloria says. “He worked hard his whole life.” All six children also worked in the bakery growing up, although Ben and Gloria didn’t want them to stay.
“I only went to grade school, and I wanted my children to have an education,” she says. “I sent them to high school and college.” Those educations have paid off. The bakery is going strong with the fourth generation working there now.
Carmen Troesser is a longtime contributing photographer and writer for Sauce Magazine.
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