Oh My Papa...
The spirit of James Pelura Sr. Lives on through the generations
by Donna Federanko-Stout
She still gets all choked up when she talks about him and her eyes well up with tears, even though its been over 37 years since he passed away. But her
stories about him have kept him alive for his future generations to know him. My favorite story is when she tells me how she whispered in his ear as he was
lying in a coma, so near to death. She told him, “Pop, I’m going to have a baby...” and I was that baby.
So many times in my travels around Salem County I have encountered people who knew my grandfather, James Pelura Sr. And my grandmother, Rose.
They take one look at me and they’ll say, “You look just like a Pelura.” To me, that’s the greatest compliment in the world.
Vincenzo Pelura was born in 1887in a small town, Bellante, in a mountain province, Terramo, in Abruzzi, Italy. At the young age of 16, he traveled from his
hometown to come to America. His brother, Tony, was here and there were some friends in Philadelphia, but the real force that brought him was his desire
for America itself. To him, it was the true land of opportunity. So he left behind his native land and his Italian name and American James (Jimmy) Pelura
A handsome, young bachelor, he set out to capture his American dream. Times were not easy then and he spent many hours laboring in jobs such as the
railroad yards in Browns Mills, Pennsylvania. In 1918, he decided to join his brother in Penns Grove. He started running a jitney service for the workers at
the DuPont plant and from this, his idea for his own taxi business came to life. Soon he was operating the taxi from a tiny office on West Main Street. He
had become an American businessman!
Around this time, his friend in Philadelphia, Tony DiFerdinando, told him he was sending for one of his sisters in Italy. They had both come from the same
hometown and Jimmy had been friendly with her before coming to America. But it was not the older sister who came to Philadelphia, it was Tony’s sister
Rose, who was 13 years younger than Jimmy. She did not remember Jimmy frm Italy, but she took and immediate liking to him. Although at one point, she
was supposed to marry someone else, fate stepped in and she became Mrs. James Pelura on April 24, 1992 at St. Rita’s Church in Philadelphia. Their
honeymoon consisted of a ride to Penns Grove where they would begin their future together and their family, too. He burst with pride when their first child
was born and he stood smiling down on a new baby girl named after his mother, Frances Mary Pelura.
“There was no other father in the world like him!” Frances says and she adds, “He was kind, considerate, compassionate and loving.” She remember her
mother telling her that on the day that Frances got married after all the festivities were over and the couple had gone, Rose found Jimmy in their bedroom,
holding Frances’ wedding dress and crying. “He truly loved his children,” she says.
As a teen, Frances spent a lot of time working in the Spaghetti House her father had opened in 1936 at 98 East Main Street. He and Rose fed many
people from that place and many a times with no payment.
After Frances, cam the first son and his namesake, James Pelura Jr. Young Jim carried in him the same work ethic as his father. As a teen and then an
adult, he worked closely with Jim Sr. And when his father passed away, he took over the daily operation of the business along with running his own
Next came Edith (Italia) who showed strength and committment just like her father. There was never a challenge too big for her and she always applied one
of his most important principles, “If you aren’t going to do it right, then don’t do it at all.”
The second son, Albert, has always added a bit of humor to the family. “I was the one always fooling around at the dinner table,” he says, “and Pop would
sit me right next to him. But I was really the only one who got away with anything.” He adds, “Pop commanded respect from everybody, family and
everybody. By his stature and just the way he held himself...he was a distinguished and respected man.”
Third daughter, Evelyn, adored her Pop and echoes her sister’s sentiments. “He was the best father in the world” she says, “He always had time to talk to
you and ask you how your day went and if you had any problems. Sometimes when I would ask him for a dime to go to the store, he would play a little game
with me and ask me “Now what are you going to do with this dime? Wouldn’t be better to save it?” After kidding with me, he would always end up giving me
A surprise came when 8 years after Evelyn was born, Darlene came along. “Daddy was 53 when I was born and he was tickled to death,” she says, “and he
never failed to let me know how thrilled he was that I was born.”
“I had him all to myself,” says Darlene, “I remember it like it was yesterday because I spent so much time with him. He was a big part of my life.” She adds,
“He was my father and my protector. I thought he was invincible.” But she recalls Rose telling her that he said sadly one night that he knew he would not
be there to walk Darlene down the aisle. His premonition would come true.
James Pelura Sr.’s trademark was a neat Stetson hat, a suit, tie and a nice, shiny pair of shoes. “Even if he had to go out on a taxi call in the middle of the
night,” Evelyn says, “he would put on his hat, a tie and a nice pair of shiny shoes.”
In the 1940's & 50's, Pelura’s Taxi had become a booming business. The taxi stand was now located in a larger office on East Main Street and the Pelura
family prospered. Jimmy had become a well respected businessman and a community leader who was known for his generosity, fairness and kindness.
“He was always good to his customers and good to people”, Frances says, “If someone didn’t have the money, he’d give them a cab ride anyway. He would
even take the priest around at Easter time to bless the houses.
He was proud of the business he had built. “I think it was really something that with only a little bit of money, a rented office the size of a closet, one car and
a map of the town, he built his business up to where he had 5 drivers with matching jackets and 5 shiny taxis.” says Darlene.
Jimmy loved animals almost as much as he loved people, especially his dog, Brownie. Brownie went everywhere with him, to the office, to the bank and
even to the movies. He would always wait patiently outside for his master to come out, sometimes for hours at a time. One time Jimmy accidently left
Brownie sitting outside the bank and hours later the bank called the cab stand to say Brownie was still there. Jimmy sent a taxi for him.
James Pelura loved his business, he loved his fellowman, he loved his family, all of God’s creatures and most especially his adopted country. He was a true
patriot and he had become a true American. He served in the U S Army during World War I and was a proud member of the American Legion. “I remember
walking in the parades with him” Evelyn says, “I even had my own American Legion cap and I used to mark by his side.”
But the 1950's brought health problems for Jimmy. In 1951, he suffered a heart attack which forced him to leave the running of the business to his sons.
Complicated by diabetes, his health began to deteriorate. In 1954 he made a trip to Italy for the first time in 47 years. The next summer, he spent a month
traveling with Frances and her husband, John, making day trips and visiting relatives. “We went somewhere everyday,” Fran recalls, “and we would say,
“Pop, don’t you want to rest one day?” but he’d say “No, I want to go wherever you’re going.”
Almost every weekend that summer, Jimmy, Rose and Darlene would take day trips. All the other kids were married and Darlene was the only one left at
On this particular weekend, he asked 13 year old Darlene where she wanted to go. She told him that Julius LaRosa was at the Steel Pier so they headed
for Atlantic City. It was Sunday night, the last weekend in August. They stayed overnight at a friend’s hotel when in the middle of the night, Jimmy suffered
a heart attack. Darlene remembers seeing the doctor and her mother standing out in the hall. She went into her father’s room. He was sitting on the edge
of the bed and she said to him, ‘What’s wrong, Daddy?” She then paused and said, “You’re going to be alright..” She remembers exactly what he said...”
No, not this time, Sweet.” He told me, “I want you to be a good girl and take care of Brownie.” He said, “I want you to go to college and become a teacher.”
They got in the car and they were on the way to take him to his heart doctor in Wilmington. When they got to Woodstown, he asked where they were and
he said, “You’d better take me to Salem Hospital. I’m not going to make it.” When they arrived at the hospital, they wheeled him into Room #304 and he
said, “Look Rose, its 304". That was the phone number for the taxi office.
On Monday, Frances and John had just returned to Florida from Penns Grove when they received an urgent telegram. They got right back in the car and
drove straight to the hospital. But Jimmy had slipped into a coma and by Tuesday, August 20, he was gone.
There are so many stories that have been told to us about Pop pop. How he loved his children, and how proud he was of his grandchildren. Uncle Albert
says that when his twin girls were born, Pop pop thought that was really something and he went out and bought a brand new double coach. There are
stories about how after dinner on Sundays, the grandchildren would beg for him to take out his precious concertina. He would play Italian songs to the
delight of the children. This lover of animals could always be seen with Brownie by his side and sometimes he would sit in the house and let Mom mom’s
parakeet, Petey, sit on the side of his glasses. Aunt Dar tells of how they would dance together with her feet on his shoes. He loved the movies and would
go to the old Broad Street Theater at least 2 times a week. He especially loved the Westerns which rang of true Americana.
His funeral was the largest that Ashcraft’s had ever seen and people lined up for hours to pay their respects at his passing. Another Pelura funeral would
surpass his, that of his daughter Edith’s in 1980. The year also saw the death of his eldest son, Jim. Since, Mom Mom followed in 1987, to rejoin them in
that beautiful place called “forever”.
As children, we visited his grave regularly and we spoke of him as if he were as alive as any of us. His memory has been preserved in the minds and hearts
of his children and his children’s children and their children’s children.
Oh, by the way, it was my mother, Evelyn, who was carrying me at the time of Pop pop’s death. And when I was born 8 months later, I was born with a cleft
in my chin just like his.
See Mom, he heard you!
Vol. 1 No. 1