Thoughts from Friends

August 2019

Dear Mike,

You have been a wonderful and most loyal friend of our family for many years. Longer than anyone I know. You and my father, Gael Pierce, first met in San Diego, where you were attending the same college. You both had just served in the Navy, had a great sense of humor, took classes in education, and so you became roommates, and struck up a great friendship – one that would last 65 years!

Gael Pierce Mike Ciav Jr San Diego c1948

College boys Gael Pierce and Mike Ciavolino, San Diego, ca. 1948.

Through many phases of life, and throughout the many various parts of the world we lived, you always managed to keep in touch with Gael and our family, because that is the person you are – loyal and steadfast. You also kept a great, but mostly bygone tradition, in that you included your friend’s entire family as also your friends, which is so wonderful. You started that back in 1950, when you became friends with my uncle and aunt when you visited the Pierces in Michigan!

Dick Carol Mike CiavolinoJR

Photo booth fun, Dick and Carol Pierce with Mike Ciavolino, ca. 1950, Michigan.

You even spent the time and expense to make the journey cross-country to visit with us and your best buddy Gael, more than once, so the two of you could share good laughs, jokes and exchange stories. Your friendship and devotion brought my dad great pleasure over so many years. Even after Gael passed away in 2013, you continued your friendship through the rest of the family, right up until you passed away. That is a 1948- 2019 friendship, few have had the good fortune to have had! 

2007 Gael and friends

Gael Pierce, Mike Ciavolino, Roger Fromer. San Diego, ca. 1989.

Besides being Gael’s great buddy, what our family loved the most about you, is that you would remember everyone’s birthday, call them up, and play Happy Birthday to You on your harmonica. It made all our birthdays so special! When some of our family members would forget to call on the very day, you always came through, and our special day was saved after all!

Despite being a Navy WWII veteran, a teacher, a very talented photographer with photos displayed in the venerated halls of the Museum of Modern Art, NY, you never let any of those achievements go to your head. You seemed to be always reaching out to other people in a positive way, and that is why you have lived an amazing life, as your son Marco describes it!

You would tell us over the years how and what you were doing. It was always related to service to your country. One of our favorite things you did, is to visit many senior centers and “old folks’ homes,” and entertain them with music. You knew instinctively that those of your generation grew up in homes with live music or avidly listened to music on the radio, and you knew what songs were hits in their day. Some would be sleeping, others oblivious to all around them. But when you started to play those favorite old tunes, all the older people began to perk up, some tapping their feet, others even joining in with singing to the tune! You brightened their day (at many a nursing home, many times)! And what’s more, you liked doing that for them.

We loved how you would visit many a time with school children to tell them and teach them about sign language so they would be able to communicate with deaf people, or to tell them about what it was like for you as a young man during WWII. These are important things to educate young people about!

You shared with us your stories about your experiences during battles out at sea on the LST 395, which brought tears to our eyes, especially when you shared your most difficult memories. We shared articles and emails about your experiences in WWII. One of the most glorious moments of thanks we could have wished for you was the big ball game you went to with Marco, when the whole stadium honored you and your great service!

Your life as a whole has been one of much service to your country, your community, your friends and your family. We are so very proud of you and all the good things you have accomplished!

To us, you were the one person whose character we want to emulate more in our own lives. Personally, I have decided that I’d like to carry on with your tradition of giving birthday greetings to every one of my friends’ and family members on their birthdays. I hope I will be as good at it as you were, Mike!

Gael Pierce Mike CA 

Mike Ciavolino and Gael Pierce. Ohio, ca. 1998.

I know Mike, that you last words to us now, would be the same as in you last email:


The smile ending is so apt, it’s what you’ve left us with in our hearts – smiles after every phone call, every birthday song, every email, every kind word and chuckle – and in all the above photos. You have left our world a better one, and for that we are forever grateful. Thank you, our dear friend, we will miss you so very much!!

With Love,

The Pierces – Alyta, Tisa, Elin, and Nina



Doris shares her thoughts about her brother, Mike.




One of my fondest memories of my Uncle Mike was that how he never ever forgot birthdays. He would always call me and play happy birthday on his clarinet, or harmonica, or his tin whistle. He also always sent a birthday card. My mother and I share a birthday so in addition to my birthday card he would send another card but only half of it and he would send the other half to my mother. He would tell us that we needed to get together so we could read the card. He would add some money and tell us to go to dinner at his favorite pizza place in our town called Cici’s which we would do and toast to him.

I would describe my Uncle Mike has a jolly man, always smiling, always upbeat. I’ll miss his smile and his laughter, and those birthday calls.


Listen to Bonnie's Comments


MichaelCiavolino 0059

My name is Adam Grossman Cohen. My father, the photographer Sid Grossman, was a close friend and photography teacher of/to Michael Ciavolino.

My father Sid died when I was 2 and life went on. But many years later, in time I came into possession of a number of photographs and contact sheets from long ago.
Beautiful pictures of myself as a very young child, and of me with my father when he was alive and we were still together. I’ve carried these with me for years, they were an inspirational link to my childhood, to my past.

For some time I didn’t know who had taken the pictures, then I heard the name Michael Ciavolino from my mother, Sid’s wife who had known him then. I did some research and it all clicked.

I was finally able to locate Michael on-line and we began a correspondence. Everything that I saw and heard told me that he was a deeply kind and sincere person.

Having heard of his death just this morning, I was deeply moved. We never met in person, [except all those years ago when I was 2 and 3 years old], but he had quite an effect on my life.

I am grateful to him and wish him well as he goes out into this universe of ours.

Thank you Michael Ciavolino.

Adam Grossman Cohen




Mike and I taught 7th grade middle schoolers science together for many years. Our rooms were adjacent to one another and thus we not only shared activities and lessons but quite often combined our classes and co-taught many units together. He was a unique, innovative and outstanding educator. I learned so much from him about the art of teaching. I found myself using techniques and strategies he introduced to me many years after he retired. Since we worked so closely together we became good friends and socialized often. I missed his company when he moved away to be nearer to family. God bless you Mike and we will meet again some day.


I first met Mike when he came my way as a photographer. He took my wedding pictures in 1971. He was so easy to work with.

Later I became a teacher in Flemington and we worked together. He was such a great guy... always had a smile on his face. I'm glad he continued to have such a full life to the end.

My thoughts are with all of the family.


I am so very sorry for your family’s loss - your dad was a special man and a favorite teacher of mine . He cared deeply for all of his students and made learning interesting . I have thought of him many times over the years fondly . What a wonderful long life well lived !! bless you Mr . Ciavolino you were. Special teacher to me and many .


I have such fond memories of your father. He was a wonderful teacher. I always felt children who’s parents were teachers belonged to a special group. We had it tough in school but the lessons we learned from our parents on a daily basis made us better people. God bless you and your family.


I am so sorry. Your dad was amazing! His music and the sign language he taught the students at NCCS will always be remembered and thought of as happy memories. Loved seeing him walk into school with his suspenders on! Great and kind man, your father!


I wanted to say how sad we are for your dad's passing - and how much he was loved. Our girls Dorothy and Therese remember Michael well from all his visits to our house over the years. John remembers him although John may have only been 5 or 6 - I recall one time when your dad was visiting and John pointed at him and shouted "He's bald!". I cringed at that moment but your father gathered John up and let him pat his head ("see? You're right - no hair!"). And of course your father always had his trusty clarinet with him. Usually he'd play a few tunes...he'd eat dinner with us, and then get going because he always had plans for a teachers breakfast, or a pinochle game with old Flemington friends.

We will be remembering your dad, and praying for your family.

All the best,
Michael & Sher


Dear Mr. C, as my class called him , came to my classroom for 7 years Each year he would teach my class of third graders to sign their names and songs to present to retirement communities each year at Christmas and in the spring. He also taught them to play the harmonica. It was so delightful ! He taught them so much more than that. He taught them about aging and having a life full of service. We celebrated his 90th birthday with the whole lower school singing Happy Birthday Mr. C!!! They all knew him and loved him. He was a remarkable man!! My life was made richer because of him! 

 Janet Barker 3rd grade teacher at New Covenant


I know you all already know that my father and your father were life-long friends. Not so easy an accomplishment. Especially for someone like Bruce who liked to bust through every identifiable boundary. I loved Mike for being a true friend to Bruce. But I mostly loved him for being sooo gigantic in soul, Creativity and personality , and also being so calm, sweet in every way, and earnest about life. From the photos in archive at the MMOA to the raisin in the oatmeal. From beautiful clarinet to Retirement Baseball. He was known in a small circle of best friends as The Chief, quietly spoken.

Dear Ciavolino family, I loved your old man. I always will. I spoke to him often these past years, laughing with him and catching up on the doings of the bunch of you. Every time I got together with my siblings for a holiday or with Bob LaVaggi, we’d talk to him by phone. It was great.

Mike was great.


As some of you may know, Mike and Bruce were close friends, their relationship dating all the way back to their early years teaching in the NYC school system, and Mike would come to camp as a kind of backup or 'second banana' to Bruce. who dubbed him 'The Chief.'

Mike played a mean classical clarinet in his day, performing such works as the Brahms and Poulenc sonatas with piano whiz Howie Pflanzer; he also taught photography, manned the cabins, and lent a much-needed easygoingness to the camp, and particularly to the often harried Bruce during his many stressfi; moments through the course of the summers.

Mike was always ready with an easy smile and a reassuring word, and a unique blend of the simpatico of his Italian -- and the savvy of his Jewish - forbears.
In recent years, when he was in his mid 80's, and sometime after reconnecting with each other at Bruce's memorial service, Mike would call me every week or so, sharing his thoughts and doings and just shooting the breeze about whatever was happening. He spent hours telling me about his lifelong crush on the 1940's actress and singer, Deanna Durbin, collecting her films and even going so far as to write her a personal letter as an 80-something year old!

He loved my music, which always seemed to astonish him, and I would send him CD's of my most recent recordings, about which he would rave and congratulate me as if I were the hottest thing since Gershwin.

And no matter where I was, or what time it was, I would always take care to put everything else aside for Mike's call, for I considered it a great privilege that such a lovely and warm soul would take time to seek me out and spend a half hour or so hob-nobbing, generation apart though we may have been.

Mike somehow always managed to be as humble and modest as you could want,, slow to criticize anyone unless they had seriously earned it, quick to see the good in people, and generous in the extreme with his talents and energies in ministering to the institutionalized with his music, be it clarinet or pennywhistle.

On my recurring birthdays, when it seemed as if I had been forgotten by the whole world, both friend and family, the phone would ring before the morning was out and a pennywhistle version of 'Happy Birthday' would pipe out over the phone, for which my heart would go out to this dear old friend.

Make no mistake about it - your friends, especially the ones that actually reach out non-virtually - are your rarest and dearest gift in this world. There are many who will easily toss off a soon-forgotten and nearly antiseptic text, but few who will go the extra mile of actually spending time with you across the miles in genuine dialogue.

Mike was a man of strong faith, who, after my requesting him please not to evangelize me, for, although mysterious to him, I had my own unique 'feed' to the Divine, honored that request by tacitly trusting that I knew whereof I spoke.

He is now free of earthly burdens, and is, I'm sure, grinning from ear to ear with his newfound lightness of being in the next dimension. He leaves behind Marco, Gina and Laura, all of whom loved and cared diligently for him, both in person and at long-distance (daily hour-long crossword games over the phone with the distant Gina, followed by bouts of the game 'Battleship,' one of my youthful passions.

As all those who knew and loved - and continue to love - him, I shall feel the ache of the suddenly absent Mike in my life, and shall cherish my memories of his presence, both in the early and mid-years of Golden Arrow, and in the later years of our friendship.

.In the words of my 'Love Song':
" . .Oh yes, I love you . . .much more than I could have guessed. . ."
Let us keep Michael's family in our spirit.
Love to all, Joe Marcello


Dear Marco,

I am so sorry for your loss.

I met him when my son was in his class in Flem Reading middle school (1987) & we became fast friends. He’s an amazing, kind, caring & talented man. I will continue to think of him often and very fondly. Thank you so much for reaching out to let me know. I appreciate it very much. I will not be able to come to MD for the service, but will be thinking if you all.

With a heavy heart,

Lisa Goldberg


Dear Susan, Marco, Gina and Laura,

So sorry to hear of Mike's passing. He was an amazing man.
After all these years, I still think of things he taught me and that gentle smile and sound of his voice which affected and infected us all.
May his memory be a blessing.



Dear Marco and family,

Precious in the sight of our Lord is the death of His saints.  Our dear Mike would play his “horn” at Harford Senior Worship during the time of Seder at Passover. We at Harford Senior Worship Center in BelAir, MD have been blessed by this man’s gift of music which he gave freely. Heaven’s gain!

Lois K. Akehurst


"I was really sad to hear the news of Mr. C’s passing. He lived a good life. He was always so kind and loving to our family. I am genuinely sad. I remember him. I know I was young but I always remember his smile and the love he showed us kids. He was like a grandfather to us. He would stop for a visit on his way to FL each year. We would go to his favorite breakfast place, Waffle House. I’ll never forget him. He showed the love of Christ so well.” Jonathan Legg

Sorry for the loss of your father Marco. It’s hard when we lose our loved ones here on earth. Rejoicing that he is now with a Jesus and his body is whole!

Debra Legg