A "closed'' sign hangs on the front door of John Munty's appliance repair shop in the heart of New Port Richey. Press your nose against the glass and you can see machines he enjoyed giving new life, metal and plastic contraptions that seemed destined for the trash.
Repairing them helped repair Mr. Munty. He endured the loss of two wives and a third woman he loved and each time threw himself into his work, a mechanical talent that never waned even as he inched toward his 100th year. It sure seemed he would make it.
He opened the shop on Bank Street in 1983 and with rare exception showed up each weekday morning to work the magic he said kept him going. If Mr. Munty couldn't fix it, it couldn't be fixed. If manufacturers no longer made parts for the broken blender or lamp or mixer or radio, he could. In this 400-square-foot crowded shop/museum, he commissioned tools he had made with his own hands in the 1930s. He shaped metal with a lathe and a Delta grinder that dated back a century yet ran like a wristwatch.
Mr. Munty gave me a demonstration back in October 2010, a few days after some downtown merchants stopped by with a cake for his 94th birthday. They admired him as a true character and gentle soul, somebody who despite his age kept moving and his sense of humor. But he was much more.
He told me about growing up in Brooklyn, the son of Italian immigrants. John was 6 when his father, a chef, died of an illness. His mother opened an ice cream shop in Union City, N.J., and at age 10, he cooked burgers and made sundaes for factory workers.
After high school, he learned machinery at a local technology school. He opened a machine shop and made gears for submarines and planes during the early days of World War II. He volunteered for the Army and served with the 100th Infantry Division in Europe. He was awarded two Purple Hearts for bullet and shrapnel wounds to his back and right leg, injuries that made walking difficult for him for the rest of his life but yet hardly slowed him down.
Shortly after the war, he met a woman named Margaret when she stopped by his shop with a busted radio. They dated and married and 10 years later, she died with a brain tumor. John escaped in his work, and then some years later Marie came in for a TV repair. They got married, enjoyed successful careers and retired to New Port Richey. They were together for 43 years until she died in 2000 at age 86. They never had children.
John retreated to his shop. In October, a few months after Marie's death, he attended a hospice memorial at Sims Park, across the street. "We just started talking,'' said Anita Culler, who was there to honor a friend. "He just seemed like such a nice man, but alone.''
She invited him to join her family in Hudson for Thanksgiving dinner, which began a 14-year friendship. "He became like family,'' said Culler, 71.
Meanwhile, Jozfina Horak, who worked at a local senior center, brought her broken Kitchen-Aid mixer in for repair. She returned with a walnut crusher that John fixed for free. Next time, she brought him cookies. They became inseparable for six years until she died after an illness at 79.
John Munty put his head down and kept working.
On his 95th birthday, Culler hired an Italian accordion player. "He was so thrilled, they spoke Italian together.''
He never figured to get married again, or even have a girlfriend. But then Gay Stanislawski stopped by the shop with a lamp that needed rewiring. She, too, had been married 43 years when she lost her husband nine years earlier. At 74, she never expected another romance.
They got married in a private ceremony with a notary public last April. "He always looked forward,'' Gay said. "He kept moving.''
In January, they dined together at a favorite restaurant, Taso Italiano in New Port Richey. John suddenly grew faint, and somebody called paramedics. A carotid artery was blocked. Complications followed surgery. Then nursing home care.
At 6:30 Saturday morning, John Munty died in hospice care at 97. He didn't want a funeral but was buried alongside Marie at Meadowlawn Memorial Gardens. He left a wife, many friends and admirers, and a shop full of machines and memories.