For the Cumberland Times-News
CUMBERLAND — Described as “generous beyond words” and offering a “genuine love for this community,” Dr. Nicholas “Nick” Giarritta and his wife, Shirley, will be honored as the Community Trust Foundation’s 2013 Humanitarian Award recipients later this year.
When Dr. Giarritta moved to Cumberland from Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1962 and accepted a position as the head of pathology with Sacred Heart Hospital on Decatur Street, he did so thinking it was a short arrangement. During that time, he helped design the pathology lab for the new Sacred Heart Hospital and began to put down roots. After being drawn to Cumberland’s cordial neighbors and the hospital’s need for a talented pathologist, Dr. Giarritta found the backdrop of a river and Cumberland’s signature church steeples to be reminiscent of Zurich, Switzerland. When asked why he stayed, he offers with a grin, “What can I say? I love this town.”
Enter Shirley Walker — a Chicago native, interior designer and lover of arts. They met through a mutual friend and Nick became a friend of the family from that point. After nearly two decades, they had their first official date and married in 1981.
“The smartest thing I ever did was to marry Nick Giarritta, who vehemently shared my passion for creating, encouraging and collecting art. He is my Renaissance man,” Shirley Giarritta said.
Sharing a love for community and an enthusiasm for all cultural elements, Shirley has the distinct honor of being a founding member of the Cumberland Theatre, and Nick, a founding member of the Allegany Arts Council. The arts have always been important to them, as displayed by Nick’s generous donation to provide artwork to the patient rooms and offices at the former Sacred Heart Hospital. Through the years, together, they have contributed countless hours and funding to supporting both venues and, today, each is thriving and well-known throughout the region and the state.
Don Whisted of the Cumberland Theatre put their commitment into perspective. “Nick and Shirley Giarritta have been among the strongest advocates for the arts in all of its glorious forms, but especially through their kindness and generosity in establishing and supporting the Cumberland Theatre. It is safe to say that without the Giarrittas, the Cumberland Theatre would have faded away years ago.”
This sentiment is supported by Andy Vick, executive director of the Allegany Arts Council.
“Nick and Shirley Giarritta have been champions of the arts here in Western Maryland for many years. From Nick’s involvement as a founding member of the Allegany Arts Council, to Shirley’s past service as a board member for the Maryland State Arts Council, to their ongoing involvement with the Cumberland Theatre and the Cumberland Cultural Foundation, they both have helped to make Allegany County a community alive with the arts.”
Shirley is also active in One Tree Productions, the Rotary Club of Cumberland and the Allegany Arts Council. Nick served on the Downtown Development Commission at a time when he and Shirley renovated and designed upper-story living and both received countless awards, honors and recognitions.
Nick was honored by the city with an Outstanding Citizen Award and the green space across from City Hall is named Nick Giarritta Park because of his commitment to planting trees and shrubberies to beautify the downtown area. Similarly, the Cumberland Theatre Board of Trustees offered a self-proclaimed designation of The Nick and Shirley Giarritta Playhouse.
“I can’t think of two people who are more deserving of this honor,” said 2011 Humanitarian Dr. Peter Halmos.
The foundation established the award to recognize individuals who exemplify its mission by demonstrating the spirit of humanity through their outstanding involvement and dedication, and who have made significant contributions to positively impact the region. Dr. Harry Boggs was posthumously honored in 2012.
This year’s event is being planned for Nov. 7 at the Lane Center at Frostburg State University.