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Angelo Del Monaco

In early 2015 Rotary Local was funded by a grant from The Del Monaco Family to honor Diamante "Angelo" Del Monaco, below is the letter to the Rincon Rotary Foundation from his grandson.

Dear Rincon Rotary Foundation,

It is my honor to make this donation to the Rotary Local project on behalf of my late grandfather, Diamante “Angelo" Del Monaco.  He was an active member of his local Rotary Club in Maplewood, NJ for many years and he would be proud of the work your organization is doing in Tucson.  Before going into that, I thought it would be a good idea to give you a little background on the man first.

Angelo, as he was known to pretty much everyone, or “pop-pop” to me, was born in a small rural village in Italy on September 26, 1923.  There wasn’t much by way of opportunity and life was hard.  Even being born wasn't particularly easy.  His mother died giving birth to him.  As fascism took hold over the country, he knew he couldn’t stay, and like millions of refugees he decided to make a run for it.  He managed to board the S.S. Rex on May 9, 1940.  It was the very last ship to depart for America before the outbreak of WWII.  The very last.  If he didn’t make it, he would have been drafted into Mussolini’s army and things would have been very different.

He didn’t need to be drafted.  Upon arrival, he became a citizen and enlisted in the U.S. Army to serve his adopted country.  Barely able to speak English, the War Effort sent him to Greenland as part of the Army Corps of Engineers.  There he helped build and maintain a weather station and airfield.  These projects allowed the Allies to make accurate weather forecasts for the North Atlantic and defend the strategic Cryolite mines used in aluminum manufacturing.  The almost permanent night and sub-zero temperatures made it backbreaking labor.  That said, when I asked my grandfather about it many years later he said: “I had food.  I had shoes.  I had work.  So I didn’t complain.  Besides, I loved America.”

When he returned from the war, he eventually settled in suburban New Jersey, married my grandmother, Mary, and had two children: my father, John, and my aunt Margaret.  He got a job working for the local Kings Supermarket in 1954 and eventually worked his way up to store general manager.  Around this time, he joined Rotary and remained an active member his whole life.  He loved his family and he loved his work.  He loved serving the community.  He was known for slipping a free box of cookies into the grocery bags of unsuspecting customers when they weren’t looking, but their children were.  He knew the names of all of his patrons.  He never missed a day of work and never, to anyone’s knowledge, complained.  The modest store was the most profitable and highest grossing in the chain, beating out larger and more modern rivals, until he retired 40 years later.

But that was the small stuff.  At his wake a few months back, a man I never met or heard of came up to me and introduced himself.  He wanted to tell me a story.  The man, now a retired pharmaceutical sales rep, was once a checkout boy.  He was going to night school and needed a few hours off to interview for a job opening with Hoffmann La Roche, the big drug company.  He also didn’t own a car and was trying to figure out how to get to the interview.  When he asked for the time off, my grandfather handed him the keys to his car and said: “Go get the job.”  The man did and never forgot about that.  I heard many stories like that one during the course of that afternoon.  Those stories embodied who my grandfather was.

He was the kind of guy who loved Rotary.  He wore his Rotary pin everywhere, and I mean everywhere.  I remember seeing it pinned on his trademark blue blazer even on the weekends.  (Yes, he was also the type to wear a blue blazer on the weekends.)  He was on countless committees and dedicated any free time he had to the club.  In retrospect, now that I think of it, he didn’t have any hobbies.  Serving his family, church and community was it.  He was much better at that then he would ever be at gardening and he knew it.

More than this, he was the kind of guy who believed that when you take care of the community, the community would take care of you.  He believed that it was his responsibility to do so freely, and not because someone told him to.  Having witnessed Fascism first hand, he had a deep distrust of those who coerced people to “help” others.   He warned that all too often the seemingly altruistic motives were really pure self-interest disguised as a handout, a handout more than likely taken from someone else by force.  If you don’t want a Mussolini, then don’t give him a reason to exist.  Serving others of your own accord preserves our freedom more than anything Thomas Jefferson ever wrote.  To my grandfather, Rotary was more important than voting and more American than the Buick in his driveway.

For this reason, when you told me about Rotary Local, I couldn’t help but think about how my grandfather would have thought that was a brilliant idea.  He would be very proud of the effort and even prouder to be associated with it.  Thank you for the opportunity to remember him in this way.

Yours truly,

Eric J. Del Monaco