Tony Celano paid a visit to the Millbrook Society recently to trace the history of Hatboro's mayors.
Based on his research, his father, Joe Celano, was the longest-serving Hatboro mayor - at least since the 1870s. The elder Celano, who served the borough for 24 years from 1982 through 2006, died on Tuesday. He was 96.
Known by many as "Mr. Hatboro," Celano, a World War II veteran, had owned the presently shuttered Hatboro Music Shop in the borough's downtown shopping district on York Road from 1945 until he retired in 2002, according to his son.
In going through his father's belongings, Tony Celano told Patch that he found a scrapbook that the former mayor had kept filled with thank you cards from police officers, school children and many of his store's customers.
"There were a lot of cards from parents that took their children into my father’s store on their birthday," he said. "My dad just looked at them and said 'happy birthday' and he wouldn’t take any money."
Tony shared that his father followed a similar approach with many of the more than 2,000 couples that he married during his time as Hatboro mayor.
"He was a good will ambassador for the town," he said. "He touched a lot of people's lives."
Beverly Lawless, a member of Lehman United Methodist Church in Hatboro, recalled that, while still mayor, Celano invited her and about 30 other church members into the 7-11 for warm beverages during a Palm Sunday performance of Christ's Lasts Day on a particularly chilly day.
"He bought us hot chocolate, whatever anybody wanted," Lawless recalled. "He invited us all into 7-Eleven and he said 'you get everything you want, I’m buying.' "
Prior to running for his mayoral post, Celano had served as chairman of the board for the Hatboro Area YMCA. He also was involved with the Hatboro Police Commission. Hatboro's then-neighborhood jeweler asked the ever-jovial Celano to run for mayor and Celano agreed. But, his son recalled that Celano did not receive backing from the Republican Party, so he ran - and won - as an Independent.
In addition to his time as mayor, Celano took great pride in his various life achievements.During a visit earlier this year to the Academy Road home where he resided until age 95, Celano serenaded Patch, as well as his Meals on Wheels food delivery guests, while showing off yellowed newspaper clippings hung throughout his kitchen of his accomplishments in the Navy and as mayor.
"He was a great guy. He, his wife and his shop were an institution in Hatboro when we were growing up," Hatboro Councilwoman Patty Fleming said. "I can still see, in my mind, him leading the Christmas parade each year. He will be missed by everyone."
An avid volleyball player and Hatboro YMCA volleyball instructor, Tony Celano said his father loved to tell the story of how, while in his 50s, he and a team from the Abington YMCA were invited to West Point to play a tournament against the West Point cadets.
"They looked at these old guys and they started laughing," he shared of the "20-year-old kids" that the elder Celano and his teammates ended up beating six games straight. "They were supposed to have dinner, but the cadets were so embarrassed they didn’t show up."
A New York City native, Tony said his father came from humble beginnings. The elder Celano and his family shared an apartment with another family and there were "15 kids sleeping on the floor."
"He never had a bed as a little kid," Tony Celano said.
From living in cramps quarters, his father moved to Massachusetts, where he "almost starved to death during the depression," he said.
"He lived on rice, beans and bananas."
Mr. Celano got a job earning 25 cents an hour and soon after became a welder. One of his crowning achievements was helping to construct the Battleship Massachusetts, his son said.
By World War II, he joined the Navy and "got himself involved in a top secret project" which Tony Celano said had "helped turn the tide of the war."
As the war was coming to a close, Celano, in November 1944, married Arlene, whom he shared a life with for more than 60 years. They opened the Hatboro Music Shop together a year later and by 1948 bought their first home in Hatboro.
Tony Celano shared that when his mother died five years ago, at her request, the family kept her arrangements private. The same will not be true of his father's final farewell.
"When I went up there to see the funeral director yesterday, he drove the limousine when my mother died," he said. "My father told him when he dies he wants the fire trucks out."
And Tony Celano intends to give his father the fanfare that he deserves.
"That's what he wanted."
Paying final respects
Relatives and friends are invited to attend his viewing on Nov. 7 from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. and again on Nov. 8th after 10 a.m. in Schneider Funeral Home, 431 N. York Road, Hatboro. His Funeral service will follow at 11 a.m. He will be buried with full military honors at the Hatboro Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, please remember Mr. Celano through donations to the Millbrook Society, P.O. Box 506, Hatboro, PA 19040.