Toni Savalli was born December 27, 1927, to Carmelo and Teresina Totino.
Carmelo, a 40-year-old shoemaker, had emigrated from Italy, settling in Lewiston, Idaho, before sending for his pregnant bride.
Toni was born in Lewiston only two weeks after her mother had passed through Ellis Island, traveling by train to Idaho.
The Totinos moved to Spokane, where Carmelo died in 1934.
Teresina then married Joseph Durante, famed head chef at the old Spokane Hotel.
As Toni told it, the blended Durante family was close, with Joe Durante raising her as a loving, caring father.
Durante’s son, Sam, became her supportive, older brother.
Toni graduated from Lewis and Clark High School in 1945.
She was editor of the student paper and dreamed of a career as a foreign correspondent.
She attended the University of Chicago, earning a liberal arts degree.
After graduation, she took a part-time job at the Hillyard Library, later moving to the old Carnegie Library and beginning her 50-year Spokane Public Library career.
Toni served variously as a reference librarian, head of periodicals, director of collection development and, at the end of her career, as deputy director of support services.
In a 1997 Spokesman-Review profile, former library director Daniel Walters said, “The readers who browse the shelves of Spokane Public Library owe more to Mrs. Savalli than any other, for she is responsible for what they find there.”
While still in high school, Toni worked part-time at the Spokane Hotel, making sandwiches for her stepfather, Joe Durante.
There she met Peter Savalli, an Italian merchant marine who had spent the war years as an internee at the Bella Vista internment camp in Missoula.
As the war ended, Italian internees were given the choice to return home or stay in the United States, providing they had a sponsor.
Durante sponsored several, bringing them to Spokane to work in various food-industry positions.
Toni fell in love with the dashing young sailor from Genoa.
They exchanged love letters, written in Italian, when she left for college and were married in September 1946.
Peter, who was a well-known maÄ‚Ĺ˝tre d’hotel at the Ridpath and Davenport hotels, died in 1989.
Toni was a woman of great faith, a lifelong member of the St. Peter Parish in Spokane, and contributor to various Catholic organizations and causes throughout her life.
She was a long-time member of the Spokane branch of AAUW (formerly the American Association of University Women), and was branch president from 1965-67.
After her retirement, Toni remained active in civic affairs, focusing much of her energy on the arts.
She loved the Spokane Symphony and supported local theater groups.
She was a member of the Teal Ladies at the Southside Senior and Community Center and was volunteer librarian - and frequent bingo caller - at Touchmark on the South Hill, the retirement community she called home for the last five years.
Her pasta dishes were legendary.
Well-read and engaged to the end, her signed and sealed city election ballot was waiting to be mailed the day she suffered her stroke.
Toni was preceded in death by her husband, Peter, and by an infant son, also Peter, who died in 1963.
She is survived by daughter Carla Savalli, of Pullman, a former newspaper editor of whom she was extraordinarily proud; by son-in-law Steven A. Smith; brother Sam Durante and sister-in-law Joan of Spokane; and by numerous nieces, nephews, cousins and other relatives in the United States and Italy.
Vigil services will be held Tuesday, November 19, at 7 p.m., at Hennessy Smith Funeral Home, 2203 N. Division St., Spokane.
Mass of Christian Burial will be Wednesday, November 20, at 10 a.m., at St. Peter Catholic Church, 3520 E. 18th Ave, Spokane.
A reception will follow at the church.
Private interment will take place at Holy Cross Cemetery.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests contributions in Toni’s memory to Friends of the Spokane Public Library or Catholic Charities Spokane.
The family would like to thank the staffs of both Touchmark and Deaconess Medical Center for the loving care given Toni in the days following her stroke.
To view Toni’s online memorial, please visit www.hennesseyfuneralhomes.com.
Arrangements entrusted to
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