World War II Veteran and local artisan, Alfonso "Fonzy" Famoso, of Westminster, MD, lost his first and only battle on January 2, 2015 at St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, Maryland - just six short weeks shy of his 95th birthday.
This Erasmus Hall Campus High School of Brooklyn graduate was born on February 21, 1920 in Harlem, and was the sixth of ten children. He met his wife, Gaetana "Ida" Mangione, in Brooklyn's Prospect Park in May of 1946, when she approached him under the pretense of him photographing her and her sister, Connie. The attraction was immediate, and the love enduring; they were engaged October 19, 1946, married January 25, 1947, and will remain united in their love in perpetuity.
Most people who knew Alfonso presumed his nickname was derived from his legal name, but those who were close (and brave) enough to ask knew this was only partially true. Though bald since his twenties, Alfonso was blessed with a thick mop of curls at birth. Upon entering kindergarten, Alfonso eventually began being called "Funny Head" by his classmates. "Fonzy" was actually an Italian slang version of this original and slightly unconventional name.
Even when the hair began disappearing, "Fonzy" lived up to his colorful nickname. He led an equally colorful and thoroughly complete life, having fathered three children after having served our country as a Medical Technician in World War II. Initially housed in Mobile General Hospital in Washington state in 1943, Alfonso ultimately defended our liberties while stationed in Mormelon le Petite in France, and later still from Luxembourg and England. Shortly after his return to the states in 1945, he began working as a Color Timer for the Motion Picture Industry in Manhattan, New York. He worked on such pictures as "War and Peace", “Cleopatra” with Elizabeth Taylor, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” with Sophia Loren, "The Runaway Train" with Jon Voight and Lucille Ball’s last film, “The Stone Pillow”. His movie career included a long running schedule on the night shift, and family fondly recall him sleeping the day away in between his shifts. When awake, he thoroughly enjoyed regaling close friends and family with behind-the-scenes stories involving well known actors that he'd personally encountered. He always grew animated during these discussions, especially when the topic of Linda Lovelace's alleged coercion to perform was broached. Anyone who was privy to one of these exchanges know how adamant Alfonso was about this topic, and would argue fervently about the actresses willing (and apparently eager) involvement.
After having spent 47 years in the film industry, Alfonso officially retired, although rest he did not. This eternally strong American Hero continued working with his hands, and ultimately chose to become a construction worker - doing the work of men 40 years his junior. He never lost his interest in art following his introduction to painting in the '50's, though, and ultimately perfected his personal style of artistic expression over the years. He carved gorgeous wood furniture, rocking horses, planes, boats, and gavels, handcrafted glass, and created countless sculptures using a wide variety of materials. Informally known as "Fonzie's", these (sometime quite intricate) pieces were often gifted to unsuspecting recipients, though he gladly accepted specific requests from practically anyone. Though he spent countless hours and dollars on his artwork, Alfonso was adamant in his refusal to accept any form of compensation for it.
Despite the fact that his name became known for quality craftsmanship among family, friends, and a growing number of fortunate "Fonzy" recipients in Arizona, Alfonso was exceptionally talented in many other fields. Another skill that he became well known for was his incredible abilities as an escape artist. Though this likely conjures images of Houdini, Alfonso's special skill focused entirely on one thing in particular: escaping from the steely grip of the grim reaper. In fact, he'd become quite a pro at this after nearly 23 years of practice!
Not including the time he spent on the battlefield, Alfonso first cheated death in 1991 when he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma and given only six months to live. Alfonso passed the six month mark like a champ, and went on further to not only beat cancer, but to tap dance on its grave! His next date with destiny occurred in 2009, and involved his tired ol' heart. Alfonso passed out while doing his yard work, but was swiftly located by family and raced to the hospital in the dark, early morning hours. After being rushed inside the ER Alfonso's heart was checked, but produced dismal numbers. By all accounts, he should have been dead. The ER specialists initially believed this to be the case - that is, until he tilted his head towards staff from atop his gurney and began directly speaking with them. These physicians were astonished, because this was the lowest blood pressure they'd ever witnessed. When he checked out of the hospital a few short days later, hospital staff had awarded him the title of "Dead Man Walking" for this amazing feat!
Not only did Alfonso brazenly laugh in the face of death during both instances, but he was actually disturbed by the audacity of death to come a-knocking on his door. While he was en route to the ER in 2009, he actually "seen the light" during the dark trip. His reaction? Matter-of-factly pulling his hat over his eyes to dim the overly "bright light", and complaining about it the whole ride in.
Mr. Famoso participated in South Carroll High Schools’ Veterans Day recognition of War Veterans for the last several years, up to and including this past November. He was featured on the cover of The Frederick News Post's "Senior" insert this past April 1st, and has two compilations of his wartime achievements and honors going the rounds on YouTube. These public accolades can be found online at:
He was predeceased by his parents, 7 brothers, and 2 sisters, and is currently expected to be celebrating the reunion over a typically festive (and loud) Italian feast.
A memorial art scholarship is in the process of being created in his name by family members. If anyone wants to make a donation in honor of my father to the art scholarship, you can send a check as follows: the Alfonso Famoso Scholarship Fund c/o Margaret Lopez Erpenbeck 3961 E Chandler Blvd., #111-139, Phoenix, AZ 85048.