"His dream was to build a motel one day, and every penny we could put away
went toward this motel," Jo Ann Toanone said. "He even had an Air Force buddy draw up the plans for him."
A graduate of St. James Catholic High School for Boys in Chester, Mr. Toanone studied for a semester at George Washington University in Washington and a semester at Villanova University, according to his wife. He did not earn a college degree. "He thought he knew more than they did," she said, joking.
After working in a series of jobs, Mr. Toanone finally saved enough money at age 26 to make his first purchase - the Valley Forge Motel, which he later sold. By 35, he had built another motel and two restaurants - the Green Valley Motor Inn in Clifton Heights and two Mr. T's Restaurant & Cocktail Lounges, one in Clifton Heights and the other in Concordville. He owned all three when he died.
A gregarious man, he loved to shoot the breeze with customers and, occasionally,to belt out a few bars with the bands he hired to entertain his clientele. He adored Frank Sinatra and plastered the walls of his first restaurant with pictures of the singer.
Mr. Toanone, who was a veteran of the Korean War, was a member of the National Restaurants Association and the U.S. Senate Business Advisory Board and co-founder of the Honorable Donald J. Orlowsky Memorial Fund at Temple University in honor of a Delaware County judge. He was tax assessor in Chester city from 1963 to 1976.
Despite his financial success, "the money itself didn't mean that much," said his wife. "He loved building things. He liked to design and redesign. He was at his happiest creating."
Besides his wife, Mr. Toanone is survived by three sons, Phillip, Robert and David; a daughter, Christine; his father, Joseph; seven grandchildren, and three brothers.
A viewing will be held at 6 p.m. today at the Nacrelli-Molla Funeral Home, 2217 Providence Ave., Chester. Services will be held 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. John Chrysostom Church, 605 S. Providence Rd., Wallingford. Burial will follow at Lawn Croft Cemetery, Ridge Road, Linwood.