Tony Morelli sits for an interview.

Tony Morelli exemplifies dedication and service

Turning 90 and a recent cancer diagnosis doesn't keep Tony from volunteering at SVdP's Surprise Thrift Store

Throughout his 90 years, Anthony 'Tony' Morelli has lived a life of service, including military and civil service. Add to that, the recent years he's dedicated to volunteering at St. Vincent de Paul's Surprise Thrift Store.

In 1946, when Tony was only 12 years old, his family immigrated to the United States from post-war Italy in search of a better life. While attending Brooklyn College, he joined the Air Force ROTC.

“I graduated in January of 1956 and was called to active duty in April of '56,” Tony said. “I was going to serve my four years that was required and get out, but I got to liking what I was doing.” 

That’s when Tony decided to make serving his country his full career and spent more than 21 years in the Air Force. He even spent time in Vietnam.

“I spent a year during the war in Vietnam, in the backseat of the F-4. I flew 202 combat missions,” Tony said, adding that the missions were ”all routine, no war stories to tell.” 

When he retired as a Lieutenant Colonel, he had been stationed at Luke Air Force Base and decided to settle in Arizona. He worked another two decades in the Arizona Department of Transportation and retired in the early 2000s. 

However, Tony quickly found that retirement alone wasn't fulfilling, so he began to seek out things to do. That’s when he visited SVdP's Surprise Thrift Store and saw they were in need of volunteers.

“I know the good things that St. Vincent de Paul does — helping people with housing, clothing, medical care,” said Tony, who knows that thrift store proceeds go back to support SVdP's programs that feed, clothe, house and heal vulnerable individuals and families in the community. 

“I wanted to be part of that,” he said.

So Tony started volunteering weekly at the store. He's done so for four years now and said that he loves feeling like he’s contributing to the organization and that he finds it rewarding.

Unfortunately, Tony found himself saddled with bad news. This year, he was diagnosed with cancer. But despite the diagnosis, it hasn’t seemed to slow down his routine at all.

In fact, many are astounded to hear Tony’s daily schedule and the commitment it shows. Most mornings, he gets up and plays pickleball with friends for an hour or two. Then he volunteers at SVdP for a few hours, then goes to his doctor to receive radiation for his cancer, then he RETURNS to SVdP to volunteer for a few more hours, and finishes his day in the mid-afternoon.

"Tony is one amazing volunteer and retired Lieutenant Colonel that has our respect and admiration," SVdP Surprise Thrift Store Manager Charlotte Wiedow said. "He is steady, dependable and has a great since of humor.

Charlotte has even seen Tony mentor some of the younger volunteers who come into serve. 

"He is a caring individual and teaches us all every day what it means to give of oneself in the good times and the bad," Charlotte said. "Living by example, he is our hero!"

If Tony can do it, so can you!

Volunteers come from all walks of life. Tony found his place at SVdP. We're sure you'll find a service opportunity that's perfect for you too.