John Munty turned 94 last Sunday. The next morning he did what he's been doing for most of the last three decades — he opened Munty Appliance Repair Service at 6322 Bank St. in the heart of New Port Richey.
He turned on some classic rock and popped the shell off a mixer somebody had dropped off. Hardly a challenge for a man who once ran a machine shop and two appliance repair shops at the same time in New Jersey.
"Now I mainly just play," he confided.
Some days the letter carrier is his only visitor. But Munty is popular among business folks in the city, and when word got around he was celebrating No. 94, Joan Rees brought him a cake.
"He is such a dear man," said Rees, president of Gone Again Travel, which has operated just up Main Street for 24 years. "One of the nice things about him is if an item is not fixable, he will tell you. And when you take in a lamp or such that is an antique, he respects the integrity of the item and will not put a part on it that takes away from the age."
Munty once fixed a toaster that bore a nameplate: "Thomas A. Edison." He likes telling that story — and many others. He has few jobs that require immediate attention. And so, yes, he also doesn't make all that much money, not even enough to cover the rent on the building.
"I look at it this way: I don't play golf," he said. "This is my hobby."
If he can't find the part he needs, he makes it. His 400-square-foot shop would drive a neatnik crazy, but a handyman who values tools and ingenuity might see it more as a museum. Munty uses tools he made in 1937, including a micrometer and a sine bar that bears his name. In one corner sits a lathe that has been shaping metal since Franklin Roosevelt was president. A 100-year-old Delta grinder "runs like a wristwatch," he says, "and it plugs into any voltage. The only thing I've ever had to replace is a switch."
Munty is much the same. He has always enjoyed good health — even after getting shot up during World War II.
Munty was born in Brooklyn on Oct. 3, 1916, the son of Italian immigrants. His father, a chef, died from an illness when Munty was only 6. His mother designed clothing and wrote scripts for an Italian radio station before purchasing an ice cream parlor in Union City, N.J. At age 10, Munty had his first job, cooking hamburgers for factory workers.
After high school, he learned machinery as a student for two years at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken. That led to a job making an embroidering machine from scrap iron. "They hired me because I could type and take shorthand," he recalled. "I made $14.50 a week."
Eventually he opened his own machine shop and made gears for submarines and planes as part of the war effort in the early 1940s. That expertise would have kept him safe from combat, but all his friends were at war, "so I volunteered for the Army." By late 1944, he was a soldier with the 100th Infantry Division in Alsace-Lorraine. Shortly before Christmas, his outfit engaged German troops, including one who tossed a grenade that blew up near Munty.
"It was night time, and the next thing I knew the sun was up and I was all alone, buried in the snow," he recalled. "I crawled back to our lines. I didn't know how badly I was hurt."
The blast had crushed the back of Munty's helmet and sent shrapnel into his back. But a week later, he was back in action — just in time to catch a bullet in his right leg, ending his war. Munty earned two Purple Hearts. He stayed in Europe after the war, transporting prisoners of war, among other duties. In his free time he searched for relatives in Italy.
Munty had learned that his family's original name was Casassa Mont. He had heard of a loose translation that meant "the people who live in a mansion on a mountain," and so he wondered if the family had been wealthy.
"Turns out they were indentured servants and were given that name," he said. Munty believes that when his father entered the U.S. at Ellis Island, Mont became Munty.
Munty left the Army and returned to his home in New Jersey. He opened a machine shop and did repairs for the local power and telephone companies. He married a woman he met in his shop, Margaret, nicknamed "Tiny" because she was so small. She had numerous health problems and died 10 years later with a brain tumor.
Munty threw himself into his work, which by then included repairing radios and TVs. He made televisions and sold them to taverns in New York. "They had tiny screens and only got channel 5," he said. "When RCA came out with larger sets, I couldn't compete."
But he kept repairing the TVs, which is how he came to meet Marie.
She had been a customer in his appliance store. "She was very attractive," he said. One day she asked Munty to come fix her TV. "I went over and she was dressed to kill," he said with a smile. "She made me demitasse coffee, my favorite. We really clicked." Six months later, they married.
Marie went on to become an accountant. She would occasionally visit her sister in New Port Richey and send back oranges to Munty. "She always felt better down in Florida," he said. "And one day she met a woman whose husband had died and she was selling their new home in an orange grove near (State Road) 54. We bought it and I commuted for the next three years."
Munty couldn't bring himself to retire, so he opened the little shop on Bank Street. In his free time, he often cooked feasts from recipes his father the chef had left behind. Eleven years ago, Marie became seriously ill. Munty closed his store to care for her — to keep his promise that Marie could die at home. She did, on March 22, 2000, at age 86. They had been married 43 years.
Marie was unable to have children, and when she died Munty was left alone. He had kept paying rent on his shop to keep from losing it. Once again a widower, he threw himself into work.
Then, about six years ago, Jozfina Horak, who worked at a local senior center, brought her Kitchen-Aid mixer in for repair. She returned later with a walnut crusher and Munty fixed it for free. She brought him cookies.
They would become inseparable until last May when she died after an illness at age 79.
In his 94th year, John Munty is all too familiar with death. All his friends in New Jersey are gone, so he doesn't see any need to go back. He has no family left. So four days each week at 10 a.m., he turns the key to the shop where he feels secure among the tools and machines that have served him well for most of the century.
And what if another attractive female customer should come in with a blender or toaster that's on the fritz and take a liking to him? Might he consider marriage again?
"That's funny," he said. "I've been very fortunate to have been close to three wonderful women. But why not? When I get old, I'll think about not getting married."
Bill Stevens is the Pasco Times Editor. You can reach him at email@example.com or at (727) 869-6250.