By Sam Terry
The passing of Annette St. Charles on April 8 completed another chapter in the story of Anthony and Augusta Navarra St. Charles’ American dream. The 98-year old retired grocer and businesswoman was the last of her generation of a family that left an enduring mark on the history of Glasgow and surrounding communities.
The family’s pursuit of life, liberty, and prosperity can be traced to the 1880s. Annette St. Charles’ father, Anthony, was born in 1884 – he believed he was born on a ship bound for the United States, although some records indicate he could have been born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Indeed, Anthony’s parents Joseph and Biagia Bessie Longo Cianciola, immigrated to America in 1884, making it entirely possible he was born at sea. At the time, the Sicilian family’s name was Cianciola but was changed years later by Anthony’s brother, Frank, to St. Charles with Anthony following suit.
Anthony St. Charles was a young man in his early 20s when he met Charlie Navarra in Cincinnati. Navarra told young Anthony that he had a sister he wanted him to marry. Anthony began corresponding with Augusta Navarra who was living in an orphanage in Sicily, Italy.
At the time, Augusta was a teenager whose father, Salvador Carlos Navarra – a veterinarian in Palermo, Italy – had died when she was two years old. Augusta’s mother, Madeline de Maria Navarra, died three years later, landing her and her siblings – Nina, Maria, Charlie and Micheal – in an orphanage.
Tucked inside Anthony’s letters to Augusta was money to pay for her passage to America where she would become his wife. According to granddaughter, Madeline St. Charles Hale, Anthony and Augusta had their first face-to-face meeting on their wedding day in January 1905. As the story goes, each unknowingly walked down snow-covered sidewalks on opposite sides of the street and reached their destination, where they first met as they exchanged wedding vows.
Possessing a 3rd-grade education, Anthony worked in a machine shop for a time but was perhaps more influenced by his employment in a Cincinnati theatre. His descendants recall that Anthony dreamed of being in the movies, an accomplishment that didn’t come to fruition. During World War I, he worked in the defense plant in Cincinnati.
The young couple had ten children beginning with Joseph St. Charles who was born in October 1905. He was followed by Elizabeth “Bess” Blanch, who married Robert A. Clark; Charlie who married Bliss Reagan; Madeline, who died of Whooping Cough at age 2; Thomas, who died of pneumonia at age two months; Thomas, who married Sarah Hunt; Madeline, who married John F. Spradling; Annette St. Charles, who was born in 1918; Micheal Angelo, who married Joyce Firkins; and Frank who married Nancy Ezell.
The same year Annette St. Charles was born, Anthony and Augusta moved to Gallatin, Tennessee where they opened and operated a grocery store. For a time, they lived in Nashville where Anthony worked in a wholesale warehouse before returning to Gallatin. In 1928, the couple relocated for the last time, settling in Glasgow, Kentucky where Anthony and Frank opened St. Charles Fruit Store on East Washington Street behind Citizens National Bank.
To keep the business supplied with fresh produce, Anthony drove a truck to Nashville two or three days a week to purchase fruits and vegetables. On the return trip, he stopped at towns along the way and sold produce from the truck with the remainder making its way to Glasgow. The business was the first in Glasgow to offer fresh fruits and vegetables year around.
With the outbreak of World War II, all five of the St. Charles sons served in the U.S. armed forces. Son Tommy had the distinction of being the first Kentucky soldier to vote an absentee election ballot when stationed overseas during the war. Following the war, the family relocated the business to North Race Street and changed the name to St. Charles Market. In the early 1960s the family built a warehouse on Samson Street where they operated St. Charles Produce until 1995. St. Charles Market, last owned by Annette St. Charles, closed in 2003 after 75 years in business.
Over the decades, five of the St. Charles children – Tommy, Madeline, Annette, Micheal, and Frank – worked in both the store and the warehouse. Frank had additional business interests including a car dealership and his own grocery store.
Besides their business, the family’s day to day living contributed to the fabric of Glasgow and Barren County in numerous ways. Anthony St. Charles was a gifted musician and for a time he and three Glasgow ladies – Ann Wells, Bertie McGuire, and Christeen Snavely – performed as the ABC Band. Fondly known to all as “Papa St. Charles,” Anthony played drums while Wells played the accordion, with McGuire at the keyboard, and Snavely playing spoons.
Likewise, Augusta St. Charles came to be known in Glasgow as “Mama St. Charles” as she presided over the grocery store where she helped customers, dispensed advice, and was always ready to tell a tale and share a laugh. According to her granddaughter, Tommie St. Charles Birge, Mama’s stories were known to become more sensational as she told them.
Hale recalls a woman shopping at the grocery telling Mama St. Charles she was the mother of 19 children. Not to be outdone, Mama exclaimed that she had ten and would’ve had 19 if her husband hadn’t died. In reality, Mama was a mature 79 at the time, widowed since Papa died at age 81 in 1965.
Nearly anyone who shopped at St. Charles Market knew Papa, Mama, and each of the children personally. The store’s motto was “Quality, Courtesy, and Service,” all attributes shoppers of yesteryear recall. The store accepted telephone orders for groceries which the store would deliver to the shopper’s door. Similarly, the business extended credit by allowing customers to charge their purchases for which they were billed at the end of the month.
Son Micheal St. Charles worked in the family business but also distinguished himself as a student of the Civil War and an artist whose paintings depicted battle scenes and figures from the conflict. His paintings hung above the shelves of the grocery store where they were admired by shoppers. His namesake great nephew is Barren County Judge/Executive Micheal Hale, who is the last of a long line of Micheal’s in the family tree, all retaining the original spelling.
As Glasgow and Barren County grew and progressed, so did the St. Charles family. The third and fourth generations of the family to live in Glasgow helped with the family business in various capacities, but like most Americans, each pursued their own interests, dreams, and livelihoods.
Having nurtured her family’s legacy throughout her life and having held and a steadfast appreciation for the community that made it possible, Annette St. Charles was laid to rest last week alongside other family members at Glasgow Municipal Cemetery.