My grandfather, Joseph Mele, Vice President of Mele Companies from 1949 to 1991 has a life full of stories to tell. Stories about his father- the creator of Mele Manufacturing, mother, aunts, uncles, and brothers, growing up during The Depression, fighting in WWII, and of course life at Mele Manufacturing. I feel honored to share his tales with you over the next few posts and hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
At the young age of twelve, my great-grandfather, Emidio, accompanied by his father, left the small town of Volturara Irpina in the foothills of the Apennines, about forty miles east of Naples, Italy. The year was 1896. They boarded a steamship destined for New York and began living with a “Paosan” family, originally from Irpina Volturara. My great-grandfather’s father, a schoolteacher, remained in New York for about three months until he returned to Italy. My great-grandfather remained with the Marino family, who lived in the Canal St. area of Manhattan. My grandpa never learned whether my great-great-grandfather intended to return to the States with his wife and daughter. However, a short time later, their daughter immigrated to Buenos Aries in Argentina. My grandpa learned about her only when his mother, long after his father’s death in June 1952, took a cruise to South America and visited my grandpa’s aunt in Buenos Aries. All that my grandpa’s mother offered to my grandpa was that his aunt lived modestly.
My great-grandfather grew up in the Marino household. He attended Cooper Union at night to learn English and worked at Wolfsam Sachs, a company that made jewelry displays. The hours were long. Not feeling well, he visited a doctor who advised him to give up his job – if he wanted to live. During his younger years, he worked with the railroad, laying ties in Eastern Pennsylvania. However, he left when the paymaster took off with the workers’ pay.
In 1912, he started his own company –Mele Manufacturing Co., making displays for jewelry. He was the salesman, the maker and the deliverer. Little by little the business grew. He made the window displays for Tecla Pearl on Fifth Ave. He then expanded and began to make some fine frames and leather boxes for cards and cigarettes in a small factory, located on Center St., north of Canal Street in Manhattan.
In 1916, my great-grandfather married Lucy Pascale. My grandfather is unsure as to how they met, but following their marriage, they lived on Christopher St. in the Village and later on King St. in a building that my grandpa’s uncle Vincent owned.
The Pascale family began their immigrating from San Fele, in the province of Potenza in about 1890. It began in a strange way. My grandpa’s grandmother had eight children, four each, boys and girls. A young man from San Fele had a crush on one of the girls named Felicia. He came to the States and was involved in real estate and later contacted my grandpa’s grandmother to ask for the hand of her daughter, Felicia. Although Felicia was only fifteen years old, my grandpa’s grandmother agreed and with a chaperone, Felicia made the journey to the U.S. Two years later my grandpa’s grandmother left Italy with her seven other children and the family settled in Greenwhich Village. My great-grandmother was the youngest at two. One person my grandpa never heard about in the family was his grandfather, Joseph – on his mother’s side. Rumor had it that he was having an affair with a farmer’s wife, which resulted in his untimely demise. But more recently my grandpa learned that he succumbed to a heart attack.
Now that you’ve learned about the Mele and Pascale family voyages to the United Stated, how my great-grandparents met and how my great-grandpa started Mele Manufacturing, stay tuned to learn more about the Mele family and my grandpa’s life as a young boy living in the greater NYC area.
Thanks for reading!