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Mayor Mike Tribute Showed 'Ties' to Lansdale

The public turned out en masse to view the collection of one of Lansdale's most cherished individuals. Plus, we finally find out about the history behind those bowties.

There was everything but the bowtie.

More than 400 visitors got a glimpse into the private life Saturday of late Mayor Mike DiNunzio during a tribute to the life of DiNunzio.

"They’ve been telling me it's one of the biggest and I've seen a lot of people come through," said DiNunzio's son, Mike DiNunzio Jr. "We’re very pleased with the fact that everybody has an interest."

Lansdale Historical Society President Dick Shearer and historian Steve Moyer invited the DiNunzio family to show off Mayor Mike's collection to the public as part of its "Holidays at the Homestead" event.

"They did a wonderful job," DiNunzio Jr. said. "They really put a lot of work into this and we really appreacite it."

From a sampling of his clock collection and his train lamp collection, to his expensive and exquisite paperweights and his favorite James Brown dancing doll, DiNunzio was alive again at Jenkins Homestead.

Clocks, commendations and aprons from his Mike's Shoe Repair shop were featured in one room of the homestead. There was also a video stocked with photos of Mayor Mike at events in Lansdale and Mike DiNunzio at home and during his tenure in the Air Force during World War II.

Mayor Mike was stationed in France and England where he packed and repaired parachutes, repaired flight suits and worked in the motor pool where he fixed damaged equipment.

Upstairs in the homestead, Mike's son Mike DiNunzio Jr. manned the room that featured his father's prized paperweight collection.

Greeting one as they walked into the room was a blown-up picture of Mayor Mike doing his best Scrooge impression one past Christmas. Surrounding the picture were plaques, including his 1983 Humanitarian Award from the North Penn Chamber of Commerce and board Chairman Albert Hoffman, and a wooden plaque in the shape of his famous bowtie for his 25 years of being the "tie" that binds Lansdale's neighborhoods together.

On the opposite wall was a plaque from Grant Jenkins Plumbing and Heating of Lansdale fashioned into a toilet paper holder, and a Certificate of Survival from Count Dracula from the Lansdale Jaycee's haunted house.

Across from the wall of paperweights from around the world was a table adorned with various police custodian helmets, his top hat, a 1971 Distinguished Service Award from the North Penn Chamber of Commerce and a drawing of a Model A to "Grandpa DiNunzio" from Christina C.

Shirley Kernechel, of Quakertown, loved the paperweight collection. She ventured out to the Jenkins Homestead Saturday because Mayor Mike held a special place in her life.

"Mayor DiNunzio is very special to my husband and I because he married us five years ago in his office in Lansdale," Kernechel said. "He wasn’t only just the mayor, but he was like our pastor because he married us."

She said Mayor Mike will always be remembered for his friendliness.

"He made himself available to everyone," she said.

Jerry and Annette Watson, of Souderton, were good friends of Mayor Mike. They were in the Model A Club together and they were part of Thursday Morning Breakfast Club at R&S Keystone Diner.

"Mayor Mike will always be Mayor Mike," Jerry Watson said. "Every time we used to see him, he was Mayor Mike."

The research center next door was made into a small museum for DiNunzio's trinkets, including his James Brown dancing and singing doll.

"Anytime he would take you to the 'Man Cave,' he would say, 'Push that button,'" Moyer said.

Behind the glass were featured his many cobbler tools, an old baseball mitt and football from Yocum Ford, and various priceless Pennsylvania license plates from the early 1900s.

There was also DiNunzio's Amish hat, bowler hat and straw hat. And who can forget the vest he always wore at every Lansdale Bike Night?

There was also a unique nutcracker in the shape of a dog that had a local connection to it.

"Mike showed me this one day on his patio. I said, 'What is it?' 'It’s a nutcracker.' And I said, 'It's kind of neat and interesting' and he said, 'Your grandfather made it.' The Novelty Stove Company didn’t sell those, but the guys made things," said Moyer.

The biggest item from his collection - aside from the Model A Lansdale Police Wagon and Fairmount Fire Company trucks outside - was a Lansdale train station sign from the turn of the century.

"In terms of money, maybe the plates are the most expensive, but this wasn’t about money," Moyer said of the event. "There are some things like this foam rubber truck. He might have gotten it for free, but Mike liked it. It wasn’t sort of about money; it was what he liked."

Bowties and Mustangs

DiNunzio Jr. said he was amazed by the amount of items in his father's collections.

"It's sort of been gradual, though it hasn’t hit me until now," he said. "You start looking at it and realizing how much he collected."

And what about those bowties?

"The reason he started wearing bowties was he would go out and do civic work and come back to the store, and he would jump on the machine and start working on a shoe," DiNunzio Jr. said. "Of course, the wheels turn on a sander and belts are there, and if you have a regular necktie, it could be very disastrous. So he would come back, he didn’t have to remove his tie, he could go in and out and do what he wanted to, and not worry about that."

Shearer said there was a bit of trepidation in holding the event.

"We had an idea of what Mike had out in his little museum, but if you look at the sum total of the thing when it's all up on the shelves and all packed together, you have no idea what you're going to wind up with when you start taking items out," Shearer said.

For instance, Mayor Mike had a row of 52 hammers. Most of them looked the same to Shearer, even though Mayor Mike would have known the difference.

"We saw no sense in bringing 52 hammers over here that would have taken forever to bring that and eveyrhting else so we tried to bring out representative pieces that kind of symbolized things that he was interested in during his life, things that suddenly turned him on, everything from the James Brown doll to the plaques on the walls," Shearer said.

Shearer believed DiNunzio would have shown off his beloved collection somewhere along the way.

"He collected because it was fun for him," he said. "He wouldn't necessarily think it was interesting for anybody else."

Shearer's most favorite item in Mayor Mike's collection: his light blue 1965 Ford Mustang.

"I owned a 1965 Mustang and he had a 1965 Mustang in that garage, and that thing could drive right over to my house and go right into my garage right now," Shearer said.

DiNunzio Jr. said his dad's car collection were his most favorite items of all.

"The best thing is his cars," he said. "To actually get in and drive those, we both had lot of fun with those and I'm still enjoying it."

Legacy Lives On

DiNunzio Jr. said he expects to thin out his dad's collection, but he expects to keep quite a bit too.

Shearer said it's up to the family what they do with Mayor Mike's collection.

"I would like to hope that some of the items, especially those that were germane to Lansdale — he had some clocks that were manufactured here in town — would stay in the community, and I would like to see them go to a repsosnbible party," Shearer said.

"That’s further from our bind at this point," he said. "We just wanted to have the opportunity to have the public see that side of his life."

He said the draw on Saturday was people seeing an aspect of Mayor Mike's life they weren't familiar with on daily basis. They knew Mayor Mike as the one who would shake their hands, conduct weddings, ride in parades, light the Christmas tree, working in his shoe shop, and stand as a community icon.

"They might not know what other interests he had besides serving his customers, and this kind of sheds a bit of light into that," Shearer said.

So what legacy has Mayor Mike left on Lansdale and the surrounding area?

"If anything, I think he will be remembered as a man who had a love affair with the town," said Shearer. "First and foremost next to his family was what went on in his community, and he wanted everything that happened to be as positive as possible."

Mayor Mike was always upbeat. He was an elephant when it came to shaking hands and bringing up conversations from four years ago, remembering exactly what he said and what the other person said.

"He had a commitment," Shearer said. "He would see things through when other people would give up. I think that determination to see a project through is really one of his true legacies, why he’s remembered in so many different areas of town."

DiNunzio Jr. said he and his sister Claire DiNunzio Mirarchi had a "very nice, middle-class, stable, Italian upbringing." They grew up at Cannon and Delaware avenues in Lansdale.

"We had a lot of good guidance," he said.

DiNunzio Jr. said the legacy of his father remains in the organizations and people he helped in his lifetime; he was on a lot of boards, like Visiting Nurse Association and Lansdale Library, and took part in everything.

"I think a lot of people remember him for that," DiNunzio Jr. said. "Its gratifying to see all these people here, it really is. He enjoyed people in the town and to show that they feel the same way, that is a legacy. It's something great."

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