Rocco DiSanto was born on Christmas Day in 1958. His mother went into labor while the Christmas lasagna was still in the oven.

In later years he would say he always felt cheated on Christmas until the end of the day, when his mother brought him out a special birthday cake and a present wrapped in birthday paper.

Mr. DiSanto, 52, died Saturday morning after a long battle with cancer. He was part of the well-known DiSanto family who has owned and operated Anjon’s Italian Restaurant in Scarborough since 1954. His five siblings surrounded him with love in his last year of life. His older brother, John DiSanto, took him into his home; his sister Anna DiSanto accompanied her big brother to all of his chemotherapy treatments; his older sister Dorothy Morrell doted on him just as she did after their mother died.

“I moved him in here to try and heal him and help him. Fix him,” John DiSanto said. “I couldn’t fix him, but he fixed me. He changed my life forever, trust me.”

Mr. DiSanto grew up on Read Street in Portland. Even as a child, “Rocky,” as his family called him, was tough as nails. Once, John DiSanto recalled, Rocky split his head open on one of the tanks parked at the nearby Stevens Avenue Armory.

“We rode him home on our … bikes and my mother took him to the hospital, and he never shed a tear,” John DiSanto said.

Rocco DiSanto was a mischievous child who liked to take things apart, a foreshadowing of things to come.

“He always said that he wanted to be a great archaeologist,” recalled his sister Anna. “He was the type of kid that, give him a bike and he would be the first one to take it all apart because he wanted to put it all back together.”

Mr. DiSanto attended Lincoln Middle School and Deering High School, then went to work at Anjon’s. He was a good cook, and the person responsible for creating the restaurant’s popular stuffed breads. But eventually he ventured out on his own, landscaping at first and then doing all sorts of handyman jobs. He started his own business and fixed everything from vacuum cleaners to pizzelle makers. He built three houses on his own.

“Rocky was jack of all trades and master of all trades — plumbing, carpentry, electrical, painting, construction,” John DiSanto said. “His nickname was McGyver.”

Once, when the $30,000 fountain at Anjon’s broke, “he said give me 40 bucks, I’ll get it working,” John DiSanto said.

And he did.

Mr. DiSanto was a movie buff who especially enjoyed watching classics such as “The Caine Mutiny,” and he liked to watch the History Channel and the National Geographic Channel. He was always reading books about carpentry, electricity and plumbing.

Mr. DiSanto loved anything having to do with the beach or old ships.

“He loved the coast of Maine,” John DiSanto said. “When he wanted to shut the world off, he went to the beach. He was not one to lay out in the sand and that type of thing. He just wanted to walk, dig some clams maybe. It was what really soothed his soul.”

Mr. DiSanto is survived by two children, Rocco DiSanto Jr., 19, and Allyssa, 17, and their mother, Sue Forbes; his father, Rocco DiSanto Sr. of Scarborough; one brother, John DiSanto of Scarborough; and four sisters, Dorothy Morrell of Portland, Anna DiSanto of Raymond, Caroline DiSanto of Westbrook, and Sandra Lee DiSanto of Scarborough.

Staff Writer Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

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