BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Vito Mondelli died at 5 a.m. Tuesday, December 29, 2015, at home, following a long battle with a terminal illness.
Camille Aragona, his caretaker, sent a message to friends, "The heart of Berkeley Heights passed this morning at 5 a.m. peacefully."
Vito, who was 84 at the time of his death, was born and raised in Berkeley Heights and had lived in his home since the age of two, he said only two weeks ago, on Tuesday, Dec. 16. That was the day members of the VFW Post 6259 dropped by his farm stand and asked him to serve as Grand Marshall of the Memorial Day Parade.
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The former Marine, who had served in Korea, accepted the offer after learning he didn't have to walk the parade route, just ride in style in a car. He was a little unsure about making a speech, but anyone who knew Vito knows he would have pulled one off with ease.
After returning from Korea, he joined the Department of Public Works and, when he retired 31 years later, was the head of the department. He credited his rise from worker to top man to being "very versatile," pointing out he could and did do each of the jobs in the department.
He was an active member of the Mount Carmel Society and a member of its executive committee.
Mostly, though, he was a friend or a beloved "uncle" to so many. Charlie Pratt wrote, "I first met Vito in 1983 and he was a gentleman from day one and treated my family as one of his own. My daughters grew up having an 'Uncle Vito' that they loved and hugged.
"He loved people and his customers, putting his trust in them evidenced with the honor system at his fruit and vegetable stand. It was pay as you exit, and it worked. Just a box of money unattended, in the open, overnight, day after day, and year after year. I doubt I will ever see that level of trust again anywhere.
"Vito served our country and freedom honorably as a Marine and served our community with respect, sweat, and hard work his entire life. A true part of Berkeley Heights history is now rewritten and lost. Rest in peace my friend."
He was also a member of the Berkeley Heights Veterans Memorial Park Restoration Committee and was the impetus behind the construction of the first Veterans Memorial in Memorial Park. The town's first War Memorial was a brass plaque in the middle of what is now the parking lot for the municipal building. He and others got approval to move the plaque and create the first memorial about 50 years ago.
Ted Romankow, the head of the restoration committee said, "Vito represented the heart of Berkeley Heights. He lived and loved this town, rarely traveling outside its borders except to supply his nursery and vegetable stand.
"He was kind and generous and not afraid to express his views on (everything, from) politics to cooking pasta. He was a leader and looked upon with respect and admiration. He will be sorely missed."
In recent months, Vito used to sit at his farm stand across the street from the memorial and watch the changes at the memorial. He was pleased by the progress, particularly, the installation of the new green street lamps. Only one thing still needed to be done, in his opinion, cutting down the large pine tree behind the memorial. There is nothing historic about it, he said, noting it was not the original one, "It's the fourth tree," on the site.
Arrangements for his viewing and funeral are being made by Paul Ippolito Berkeley Memorial and will be published when they are final.