CHERRY HILL — Last year Bruno Melchionni suffered a ruptured aneurysm and if he had been living alone, and not with his daughter, Elaine Podell, the 86-year-old World War II Army Air Corps veteran wouldn’t be here today.
“The doctors told me, if my daughter had gotten me to the hospital about 15 minutes later than she did, they wouldn’t have been able to do anything for me,” he said, adding, “I guess God still has something for me to do.”
He had been living in an apartment in Cherry Hill for 11 years after the death of his wife, Rose, but when he developed heart problems he moved in with his daughter, who also lives in Cherry Hill and who is a Eucharistic Minister at St. Mary.
Bruno is a grandfather to five grandchildren, the oldest of whom is 38, and a great-grandfather to eight great-granddaughters, the oldest one being 8.
His church is The Catholic Church of St. Mary and for years he has volunteered his time, talents and treasures at the parish, often more than 20 hours a week, most notably since the death of his wife in 1994. He pointed out that he and Rose always showed concern for the parish.
Bruno was born in Camden and raised in the Italian section of the city. “I went to Mount Carmel Church,” he said.
Bruno got a job with RCA in October 1941 in the engineering phase of the company but, two months later, war broke out with Japan and Germany, and he went on active duty in the Army and was assigned to the Air Corps. With his engineering background he became a navigator and attained the rank of captain.
“I was a navigator on a B-17 and flew 30 missions over Germany from 1942 to 1945,” he said. “After Germany surrendered I started training as a navigator on a B-29 for missions over the Pacific.
“But the war ended before I went to the Pacific,” Bruno continued. “I was very grateful for that because I didn’t think I would have lasted 30 missions over Japan.”
After World War II, he returned to RCA and became a full-fledged engineer in 1951.
“I retired in 1986 running antenna operations in Gibbsboro,” he said. “My whole RCA career, from 1945 to 1986, was in broadcasting. I built antennas for TV stations, broadcasting equipment, cameras, tape recorders … everything that had to be used by the stations. I even helped build the antennas that went on top of the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.”
Bruno said that he rarely met any celebrities during his years with RCA, which was part of NBC.
“One time while I was up in NBC in New York I was walking behind this guy, I didn’t know who he was, when he suddenly turned around. It was Bing Crosby. We said hello and we went our separate ways. I never got his autograph. I wasn’t into that,” Bruno said.
“The only autograph I ever got was from Soupy Sales,” he noted. “I was at a convention and I got the autograph and his picture for my children.”
Soupy Sales was a slap-stick comedian who had a TV show some 40 years ago on NBC where well-known celebrities, including the likes of Frank Sinatra, would appear just to get hit in the face with a pie tossed by Soupy.
Bruno moved from South Camden in 1951 to East Camden, bought a house, and joined St. Joseph as a parishioner.
After Vatican II “I became one of about six people to be named the first lectors in the diocese,” said Bruno, and he’s been a lector ever since. (His medical problems have put his lector duties on hold temporarily.)
Bruno has grown to respect and to admire Father John Killeen, pastor of St. Mary. “Father John is not only my priest but he’s also my very good friend,” said Bruno. “When Rose and I lost our son in 1987, he helped us tremendously.”
Edward was 37 when he died of kidney failure. He was active in St. Mary Church in Medford, said Bruno, where his children went to school. Edward was involved in both the basketball and soccer teams and helped in the grammar school.
“When my wife died in 1994 Father John helped me get over that hurdle,” Bruno said.
Father Killeen said Bruno sees each day “as a gift from God. He definitely has had his share of challenges, particularly with the loss of his son and wife, yet he seemed to have learned from these situations as he learns from all situations he’s confronted with.”
Bruno said there was a campaign to build a new St. Mary Church at the time, so Father Killeen in 1984 started a steering committee. The architect was selected and both Bruno and Father Killeen got involved in the plans in St. Mary’s construction.
One of the features he and Father Killeen are most proud of in the church is the crucifix. “If you stand at a certain point in the sanctuary, it appears you are staring directly into Jesus’ eyes,” said Bruno.
“I now rely on him a lot, particularly when it comes to contractors,” said Father Killeen. “His years of experience with RCA are extremely helpful. And I must admit, because of his background, Bruno will often disagree with me on construction and architectural matters as quickly as he will disagree with contractors.”
After the death of his wife in 1994, Bruno said he began spending more time at the church than at home. “I was using my technical expertise where I could,” Bruno said. “My time at the church is in gratitude for God’s blessings and for all that Father John has done.”
For more information on stewardship contact Russell Davis, Office of Stewardship, at 856-583-6102.