Joseph Mastropaolo, 101, shipyard worker, tailor and health nut

Posted: March 06, 2014

JOE Mastropaolo wouldn't let a little thing like turning 100 keep him from the pool tables or the dance floor.

He might not have been Minnesota Fats, but he could run a table with the precision of a much younger man, and proved it frequently after turning the century mark on Jan. 6, 2013.

As for dancing, he might not have been Fred Astaire but he could cut a rug, as they used to say, with the best of them, and always made it a point to dance with every lady in the house.

"He didn't want anybody to feel left out," said his daughter, Rita Ferrara.

That was also a hallmark of this man, who embodied the values of the old-fashioned gentleman, always putting others' needs ahead of his own.

Joseph Mastropaolo, a skilled tailor who worked for a number of local clothing firms, a welder's assistant for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard during World War II and a devoted father, grandfather and great-grandfather, died Monday at age 101. He was a longtime resident of South Philadelphia.

Joe always credited a lifetime of exercise, vitamins and positive thinking for his longevity. His brother, Anthony, is following close behind. He's soon to be 97 and is still driving.

Actually, Joe was a rather sickly youth. Once, while hospitalized, a nurse clapped him on both ears when he became too demanding, giving him a lifetime of hearing problems.

One day, while attending the Sesquicentennial Exposition, in Philadelphia in 1926, Joe came upon a booth run by a man who gave the sickly kid some sound advice - start working out and eat healthy food.

For some reason, the advice struck a chord. Maybe Joe was ready to hear it, and it changed his life. He took the man's advice, and the rest is history.

"He was like Jack LaLanne," his daughter said. "He was taking vitamins before most people knew there were such things. And he started lifting weights."

Joe grew up at 8th and Mountain streets, in a household of eight, with three brothers and two sisters. He attended Southwark Elementary School until eighth grade, when he ended his formal schooling.

At the shipyard, he was working on the battleship USS New Jersey as a welder's assistant. The workers used to ask what they would do if they got stuck in the tight quarters of the hold. They agreed it would be advisable to take off their heavy clothing to climb out.

Sure enough, Joe was working alone in the hold when the regular welder was off, and he got stuck. He said later that he remembered the advice about removing his clothing. It saved him from what could have been a lengthy imprisonment.

After the war, Joe started working as a tailor, learning the trade on the job. He worked for various local companies for about 40 years before retiring.

Before he joined the South Philadelphia Older Adult Center about 24 years ago, he tried other senior centers and didn't like them. He found a home at the South Philly center and became its star member.

Fellow members gave him a rousing and surprising 100th birthday bash. After the honors, he went into the poolroom and shot a game with brother Anthony, winning, of course.

In their youth, Joe and Anthony performed in their own band, Chick Rays and the Arcadia, with Joe on the drums.

Joe married his childhood sweetheart, Minnie, in 1938. She died in 1988 at age 72.

"She was the love of his life," his daughter said. "He never thought about going out with anybody else."

Joe was a passionate dancer who took lessons at the senior center and mastered dances his daughter said she never heard of. He and his wife went out dancing every week, and he continued after her death.

"He was very outgoing, easygoing," his daughter said. "He worried about his family. He wanted to take care of them, be with them. He always did for others."

Besides his daughter and brother, he is survived by two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass 10 a.m. tomorrow at Stella Maris Church, 10th and Bigler streets. Friends may call at 9 a.m. Burial will be in Holy Cross Mausoleum.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the South Philadelphia Older Adult Center, 1430 E. Passyunk Ave., Philadelphia 19147.

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