In Memoriam: Forever Rumsonite, Rumson High Football Star, Fireman, Tony Mellaci, 100

“To my dad who accomplished so many things in life and experience more than we could imagine. The depression, WW2, starting life when there was still horse & carriages, to seeing a man walk on the moon. My dad loved life and lived it to its fullest. RIP dad. Until we meet up again. Love you … He reached his goal to live to 100.”

That he did. Iconic longtime Rumsonite Anthony J. “Tony” Mellaci passed away peacefully from natural causes at home, surrounded by loved ones, on June 17. He had just recently reached the age of 100.

Born in Red Bank in 1922, Tony was the son of Frank and Barbara Marra Mellaci. Both of his parents, while American citizens, came to this country from Amaroni, in the province of Catanzaro, in the Calabria region of southern Italy.

“Tony grew up with his brother, Louis, on an estate on Tyson Lane in Rumson, where his father worked as a caretaker. With the demise of prohibition, Tony’s father acquired one of the first liquor licenses in Rumson and in 1935 moved his family to 128 East River Road where he opened up Frank’s Bar.  Tony attended Rumson High School during its inaugural year.  Although only 5’ 7” and 155 lbs., he starred on the football field as a halfback and earned All Shore and All State recognition. He was inducted into the first class and is a member of the Rumson-Fair Haven Regional High School (RFH) Sports Hall of Fame for Football …
Everyone who met Tony was immediately drawn to his smiling face and cheerfulness. He instilled in his children a keen sense of responsibility and the importance of family. He loved his New York Yankees and New York Football Giants. Although he was a season ticket holder for the Giants for only 47 years, he attended at least one game for every decade between 1938 and 2018.”

Loved ones of Tony Mellaci in his obituary

After graduation from what was then Rumson High School, Tony got a scholarship to play football at Admiral Farragut Academy in Pine Beach. He went on to play in the 1941 Little Army-Navy Football game against the New York Military Academy. After that, he was awarded a scholarship to play football at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, FL.

Tony was drafted into military service less than a month before his first game and entered the U.S. Army in August of 1942. He proudly served in WWII as a combat medic in the 94th Infantry Division in Patton’s 3rd Army.  He served in Northern France, the Ardennes, the Rhineland, and Central Europe. He was honorably discharged having obtained the rank of Staff Sergeant in the Medical Corps. He was presented with the Bronze Star for bravery as well as other medals and commendations.

Feeling he was too old to continue his collegiate career, he returned home after the war and went to work for his father helping to manage Frank’s Tavern.

He also played semi-pro football for the Rumson Veterans for three years. In 1948, he and his father moved the tavern to its present location in Rumson and continued to run it until 1962. During the 1950’s, Tony and his dad also owned the Swedish Hop in Sea Bright and leased and managed the Bamboo Room on the Sandy Hook Bay at Sandless Beach Club.

During this time, he played and sponsored several teams in many bowling leagues and in the 1950s, the Franks Tavern team won first place in a tournament in Detroit, MId. 

Tony was a proud member of Rumson’s Oceanic Fire Company. He celebrated 50 years of service with his friend, Russ McCue, several years ago at the Memorial Day Parade in Rumson. “He always remained ready to respond regardless of weather, safety, or personal inconvenience to save lives and protect property,” family said.         

After selling the tavern, Tony joined Dorchester, Inc. and sold wine and whiskey products to restaurants and taverns throughout Monmouth and Ocean counties.

He raised his family of two sons and a daughter in Rumson, first at a home on Avenue of Two Rivers that his father built for him, and later, again a home he and his father built on Blossom Road.

Tony retired in 1982 and moved with his wife, Sharon, to Stuart, FL. While there, he was a starter at the Martin County Country Club and played hundreds of rounds of golf. He and his wife Sharon, traveled throughout the United States and Europe, primarily to conventions with the 94th Infantry Division. He particularly loved traveling to Hawaii, San Diego, Las Vegas, and, of course, Italy.

They later returned to New Jersey in 2011 and lived in Eatontown with their son, Jim.

In October of 2021, he and the love of his life, Sharon, celebrated 72 years of marriage with family and friends. The two have been inseparable since their marriage on October 30, 1949.  They recently celebrated Sharon’s birthday.

Tony is predeceased by: his parents, Frank and Barbara Mellaci; his brother, Louis Mellaci, and wife Marie; his grandson, Daniel Mellaci; and his son-in-law, Mark Waldron.

Tony is survived by: his wife, Sharon (Hower) Mellaci; his children, Tony Mellaci and wife Beth, of Daytona Beach, FL, Donna Mellaci Waldron, of Palm Beach Gardens, FL, and Jimmy Mellaci, of Eatontown, and his partner Denise Kelleher; his grandchildren, Matt Mellaci and wife Colleen, Tom Mellaci and his partner Leslie, and Taylor Mellaci, granddaughter-in-law, Megan McGowan Mellaci, Luke Waldron, and Preston James (P.J.) Mellaci and his partner Megan; and three great-grandchildren, who he adored, Mason, Danny and Bennett.

Click here for the full slideshow of Tony Mellaci’s life.

Services will be private at the Damiano Funeral Home. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in honor of his grandson, Danny, who predeceased him, to The Joan Dancy and PALS (People with ALS) Foundation, P.O. Box 8157, Red Bank NJ 07701 or  http://joandancyandpals.org.

John Caroli
BCS Wealth Management