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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

Home is the Sailor, part 2

(Props to Kate for tackling the scanning of a big stack of old family photos.)

We were really tickled when a reporter from the Philadelphia Inquirer wanted to do a write-up on my grandfather and his accomplishments. The article is online, but in case the article gets taken down at any point, I’m going to repost it. [Edit, 2013: no longer online, sure enough.]

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Published May 22, 2010.

Theodore Colangelo, 90, defense-mapping official

By Claudia Vargas

Inquirer Staff Writer

Theodore Colangelo, 90, of Cinnaminson, a sailor during World War II who went on to be director of the Defense Mapping Agency distribution center in Philadelphia, died of prostate cancer and multiple system atrophy Monday, May 17, at the Masonic Home of New Jersey.

When Mr. Colangelo was transferred from a Defense Mapping Agency office in New York state to the Philadelphia distribution center in 1959, he was a supply clerk. By the mid-1970s, he had risen to director, managing more than 120 employees, said former colleague Gerald Bonner of Cinnaminson.

Mr. Colangelo was known as a firm leader whom employees respected for his openness to new ideas, such as having an evaluation panel for promotions. But his biggest accomplishment was coordinating the military branches working within the distribution center.

When Mr. Colangelo first arrived, Bonner said, the Air Force and Navy foremen “were all trying to operate in their own ways.”

Bonner, who was hired in 1975 as the personnel officer, found himself dealing with minor issues. Mr. Colangelo reorganized the joint operation to flow smoothly, he said.

“It was humming. I got bored,” he said, adding that he left in 1980.

Mr. Colangelo retired in the early 1990s after 45 years of working with military mapping systems and distribution.

Mr. Colangelo had come to the United States as a 10-year-old from his native city of Pietragalla, Italy, with his seven siblings and widower father. Arriving in 1930, Mr. Colangelo and his family settled in Schenectady, N.Y.

When he was 16, he joined the Civilian Conservation Corps and a year later the Navy, where he was a seaman aboard the Erie.

After serving for three years, he returned to Schenectady. But a year later, Pearl Harbor was attacked, and he rushed back to the Navy, his daughter Eileen DiLullo said.

As a machinist mate on the Samuel N. Moore, Mr. Colangelo, during at least one typhoon, worked frantically to keep the destroyer’s engines running, his daughter said.

Shortly before being discharged in 1947, Mr. Colangelo was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. While recovering at the VA Medical Center in Brooklyn, he fell in love with Dorothy Smelz, a social worker assigned to him. Six months later, they married.

Mr. Colangelo started working for the Defense Mapping Agency in 1948.

When Mr. Colangelo was transferred to Philadelphia in 1959, he wanted a single-family home, so he settled in Cinnaminson, where he lived in the same house until he died.

He aimed to always be home by 5 p.m. to be with his family, his daughter said. But Mr. Colangelo sometimes had to work 20-hour days – and that’s when Dorothy Colangelo knew something unusual was going on in the world.

In the days leading up to President John F. Kennedy’s public announcement of the Cuban missile crisis, Mr. Colangelo had been holed up in the distribution center for many hours, his daughter said.

In addition to his daughter, he is survived by a son, Daniel; daughters Susan D. Grant and Mary Ann McWilliams; four grandchildren; and a sister. His wife died in 1996.

A funeral was held Friday, May 21, at Snover/Givnish Funeral Home, Cinnaminson. Interment was at Lakeview Memorial Park, Cinnaminson.

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Grandpa would have been so pleased to see this in the paper. I knew next to nothing about his career at the Defense Mapping Agency, and it was strange (in a good way) to be hearing about it for the first time in the newspaper.

Thanks to everyone who left kind messages on the blog, Facebook, or by email (I’m sitting down with a cup of coffee to catch up on my correspondence right now). I’ll get back to my regularly scheduled blogging topics soon, I promise. It’s just that I feel odd writing about anything else right now, you know?

2 Comments to Home is the Sailor, part 2

  1. Pare's Gravatar Pare
    May 24, 2010 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    This is lovely, Camille. How nice of them to write something.

    It sounds like your grandfather had an interesting life. The things he probably knew! Fascinating.

    Still thinking of your whole family…

  2. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    May 31, 2010 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    If you could please scan the article for me, I would really appreciate it.

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.