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Shop owner looked on the bright side

Tribune-Review
| Thursday, May 14, 2015 12:01 a.m
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John Umek attributed his long life to avoiding rich foods, though he indulged in bourbon on occasion, most recently on his birthday two weeks ago.

But more than that, his daughter said, his long life came from his positive outlook, reflected in his interactions with the Jeannette community as a grocer, banker, violinist, singer and choir director.

“He always looked on the bright side of things. He never let things get him down,” Patricia Erdelsky said.

John W. Umek died Monday, May 11, 2015, of natural causes. He was 101.

Mr. Umek was born in Claridge. The family moved to Jeannette when he was a toddler and lived in a house his father built, Erdelsky said.

He graduated with the Jeannette High School Class of 1931, then owned and operated J&M Market in town until it closed in 1977.

His daughter said there were standing orders for the market’s homemade deli foods such as kielbasa, chipped ham and roast beef.

“Everybody knew the J&M Market and all the special things they would make,” Erdelsky said. “They would take good care of you there.”

He was a founding director of Jeannette Federal Savings and Loan and was their appraiser.

As a singer, Mr. Umek had a “strong, vibrant” tenor voice that he shared in many choirs, including a barbershop quartet that would practice in the family’s home, Erdelsky said.

“I would go to bed listening to ‘There Is Nothin’ Like A Dame,’ ” emanating from the piano to her bedroom, she said.

He was encouraged to pursue a singing career in New York but had just met his future wife, the late Joan Cametti Umek. He continued to sing mostly as a hobby, Erdelsky said.

Mr. Umek sang at countless weddings, including the last about four years ago for his granddaughter, Erdelsky said.

Mr. Umek cherished his wife, who died nine years ago, and kept a sequined top of hers on a pillow as a memory, his granddaughter Chris Hong said.

“Grandpap was more the romantic, Grandma was more the realist,” she said.

Even Mr. Umek’s handshake conveyed his zest for life, Hong said.

“It was important that if you shook hands, you shook hands like you meant it,” she said, relating advice he gave her years ago: “Everything you do can mean something if you do it with a purpose.”

He was preceded in death by a daughter, Joan Dangelo.

He is survived by two daughters, Patricia Erdelsky and her husband, Joe, of Jeannette and Kathy Drylie and her husband, Ron, of Henderson, Nev.; a son-in-law, Chuck Dangelo of Jeannette; six grandchildren; and 12 great-grandchildren.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Friday in Mason-Gelder Funeral Home Inc., 201 N. First St. in Jeannette.

A funeral Mass will be celebrated 10 a.m. Saturday in Sacred Heart Church, 523 Patton Ave. in Jeannette, with entombment in Greensburg Catholic Cemetery.

Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6660 or sfederoff@tribweb.com.

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