A Life Lived: Joyce Senesi’s children remember her as woman of faith, strong disciplinarian

Dino Senesi, Jr. described his mother, Joyce Senesi, as “tough…the one who had a Bible in one hand and a belt in the other…a true wonder of a woman.”

Joyce Senesi died Sept. 30 at the age of 83. She lacked two months being a resident of Hillview Health Center for nine years. Joyce suffered from Parkinson’s Disease.

Joyce and her husband, Dino Senesi, were the original owners of Dino’s Restaurant in Elizabethton. “He was the brand, but she was the one that got things done,” said Dino, Jr. “She was the bookkeeper, supervisor, and trainer of all waitresses, hired and fired, waited tables, cooked and cashier.”

“She worked hard at the restaurant. She moved quickly. Mom moved three or four times faster than others. She was very driven,” said her daughter, Debbie Slagle.

Dino, Jr. added: “She could have been an Olympic champion if there had been such a thing as the 10-yard dash.”

Even at home, Joyce was a hard worker. “She even ironed handkerchiefs,” said Dino, Jr. “She cooked a lot at home, and tried to enforce good eating habits. Dad was the inspiration, but Mom got it done. She was the rule enforcer,” her son shared.

Joyce grew up in the Tiger Valley Community, the daughter of Robert and Sally Wheeler Street. She was a star basketball athlete at Hampton High School and enjoyed bowling. “She was an incredible athlete and had a neat hook shot when playing basketball in high school. She probably bowled 30 to 35 years, and among her closest friends were the ‘bowling girls,’” her children said.

She had accumulated numerous bowling patches, which were displayed at her funeral.

Dino, Jr. in his eulogy at the funeral remarked: “With beautiful auburn hair and a fiery disposition that matched, she was tough…During the worst of times she would go to the kitchen drawer to get her cigarettes and to the cabinet to get her bottle of whiskey. Not to drown her sorrows, but to prepare whiskey and rock candy, an incredible home remedy. Nothing would cure my congestion like that diluted whiskey and rock candy. And nothing could make by eardrum feel better than a puff of hot smoke she would blow in my ear. Remember, born and raised in the mountains, she had home remedies that worked.”

Both, Debbie and Dino, Jr., agreed their mother was the spiritual leader of their home. Church was an important part of her life. At Grace Baptist, she at one time led the music in the children’s department, headed the hospitality committee, and worked with the nominating committee. “She read to me constantly books about missionaries like Bill Wallace of China and White Queen of the Cannibals, as well as multiple volumes of Bible stories, repeatedly. She had a quiet faith,” Dino, Jr. shared.

Both children remember the excitement of New Year’s Day at their home. “It was always a big event. Dad invited lots of people over for the holiday and to watch the bowl games on television. Mom cooked tons of food and served it. It was a big day at our house,” said Dino, Jr.

Most people saw Joyce and Dino as a couple, and hand in hand they were. “Now they are together again, and that’s very comforting. I now see their legacy. Mom and Dad were a team. Not perfect people nor a power couple. But they were the exact power couple I needed to be my mom and dad. They were the perfect imperfect parents,” said Dino, Jr.

Dino’s Restaurant has long had new owners, but their imprint remains as do the memories.

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