By Carolyn Johnson
The first real snow storm of the season didn’t stop Armand Miele, 83, and his daughter and co-author Donna Miele, from traveling to Westfield, New Jersey for their first public appearance since launching Armand’s heartwarming autobiography, Born Minus: From Shoeshine Boy to News Publisher, An Italian-American Journey. The event took place on Saturday, January 21, at The Town Book Store in Westfield, New Jersey.
The snow did not keep away the most committed guests either, including principals of the largest Italian-American service organization in the country, UNICO. Former president of Plainfield’s UNICO chapter and candidate for Third Vice President of the national organization Ann Walko laughed, “We knew the snow was coming last night, so we had our sled pointed out of the driveway so we could get out today.” Immediate past president of UNICO’s Plainfield chapter, Anthony Bengivenga, and former president of Clark, New Jersey’s UNICO chapter Henry Varriano, talked enthusiastically with Armand about the author’s creative, indefatigable response to hardships and discrimination he found as a young Italian man trying to find work, especially after serving in the Korean War. When he couldn’t find work, he created it for himself. Miele built several businesses, including shoeshine boy, contractor, realtor, and real estate manager, before becoming publisher of the Rockland County Times in the 1990s.
UNICO’s mission (unity, neighborliness, integrity, community and opportunity) is to promote and enhance the image of Italian Americans; for members to be of service to the community; to promote Italian heritage and culture; to promote, support and assist charitable, scientific, cultural, educational, and literary projects; to promote members’ interest in public welfare; and, to cooperate with others in civic, social and cultural development.
In light of its mission, the principals talked with the Mieles about potential engagements at numerous local chapters of UNICO, and at Kean University. They even discussed a possible appearance in Florida. Armand’s story resonated with the participants’ experiences of growing up in America as people of Italian heritage. Armand noted that almost everyone he speaks with about his book finds a part of his or her own journey in his story. They tell him how, like him, their families seemed to have had so little in material possessions after emigrating to the United States, but they were so happy to know joy and love in the simplest of surroundings, with the most basic recreational “toys” to play with, like popsicle sticks, Spalding balls, and empty cans.
Armand promised the group, “Just tell me where you’d like me to go, and I’ll be there…even if I am in a wheelchair, I will be there.” He enjoyed sharing his life stories with others.
The Town Book Store, with its comfortable, living room like sitting room, was a most warm and hospitable venue for this event. The bookstore has been serving Westfield and neighboring communities since 1934. (www.townbookstore.com)
Born Minus is available at www.bornminus.com