For Joe Mondell, there was no business like the shoe business | News

Remember that old advertising slogan, “Nobody likes Sarah Lee?” Well, nobody liked Joe Mondell.

Gloucester’s beloved cobbler who retired aged 93 and was said to have “saved more soles than a priest” died last Friday, his daughter Cyndi Balcome told the Times. “He was 96 years old and he left at 5 in the morning,” she said, “with my daughter Katy by his side.”

Mondello, who “learned the shoemaker’s trade” from his Sicilian-born father, ruled over his small shoe repair shop on Pleasant Street like a convivial king in his own, if modest, castle. When, after serving in the Navy during World War II, he opened his first store with his brother Greg, there were 19 shoe stores in Gloucester, according to Balcome. Greg Mondello will die at age 35, but Joe will outlast all the cobblers in town and, his daughter said, might have died on the job if it weren’t for COVID-19.

“Covid killed dad,” Balcome said. “Not literally – he actually just died of old age – but he was such a social person, he loved talking to his customers and didn’t cope well with the lack of social contact during COVID.”

Anyone who knew anything about Joe Mondell knew what a social animal he was. If you brought a heel in for repair, you could add an hour to your daily calendar, because Joe loved to talk and was full of great stories.

He was immensely proud of his years of service during World War II. A boy when he was sent to the Pacific Theater in 1944, he returned to Gloucester in 1946 to marry his wife, the former Virginia Murray, raise five children, build his own house and turn his small shoe shop into a shrine to vintage memorabilia to World War II veterans, especially to those who fought, like him, in the Pacific.

Local writer Gordon Baird recalled in a Gloucester Times article published in 2018 that “every time the shoe was in trouble, it was another opportunity to bathe in Joe’s sunny philosophy of life. He likes to talk and … .at his age … there is no one he is afraid of offending, so he says what he thinks.”

Balcome said her father was especially proud of his ship, the USS Denver. “It was one of the luckiest ships of the war,” Baird recalled in his Times article, “I’m sure he had something to do with it. … (He would) survive sheer terror, he told me. When you go through what he went through in the Pacific by the age of 21, the rest of your life would probably look like a lucky break, every day.”

Every day seemed like a happy occasion in Joe Mondell’s life, his daughter said.

At home, she said, he was kind. Family – extended family, he was one of 14 siblings – was everything. When his brother Greg died so young, he essentially expanded his own family of five children to include Greg’s five. The extended Mondello family has left more than its mark here in Gloucester. So much so that the square they live on near Bass Avenue is actually called Mondello Square.

Joe built his house there, Balcome said, “hammer and nail, all on one floor so he and mom could live there when they got old, which is exactly what they did.”

They don’t make shoes like they used to, nor do they make cobblers like they used to.

Especially cobblers like Gloucester’s one and only Joe Mondell. He was, one customer noted on his “early retirement,” as good as it gets.

A wake will be held for Joseph Mondello Senior at Greely Funeral Home, 212 Washington St, Gloucester, this Thursday, January 19, from 4 to 7 p.m.

A memorial mass will follow on Friday, January 20, at 11 a.m. at St. Anne’s Church on Pleasant Street.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations in Mondell’s name to Cape Ann Veterans Services, 12 Emerson Ave. Gloucester, MA 01930.

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