Salvatore Pronesti, 90, of Morton, a stone mason who left his mark on many high-profile buildings, including the National Memorial Bell Tower in Valley Forge, died Tuesday, Feb. 14, of congestive heart failure at Mercy Fitzgerald Hospital in Darby Borough.
Mr. Pronesti, known as "Sam," learned the craft from his uncle Salvatore J. Pronesti. He considered stone masonry an art, and liked to put his mark on each stone that went into a structure, his family said. His fashioning of corners was so precise that they were known in local masonry circles as "Sam's corners," his family said.
Mr. Pronesti joined other stone masons for restorative work on Washington's Headquarters at Valley Forge National Historical Park and the Chanticleer Mansion in Wayne. He also did stonework at the Hagley Museum and Library in Wilmington, Old First Reformed United Church of Christ in Philadelphia, and several buildings at Villanova University.
Born in Philadelphia to Francesco Pronesti and Romana Bruni, Mr. Pronesti grew up in Morton, where his parents owned a grocery store on Morton Avenue during the Great Depression.
Mr. Pronesti was an altar boy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church in Morton and attended St. James High School in Chester. He graduated from St. Mary's School in Langhorne, with the aim of becoming a priest.
After the death of his older brother, Frank, in an Army Air Corps training exercise during World War II, Mr. Pronesti scrapped his plans and joined the Army. He completed basic training, and was en route to the South Pacific in the summer of 1945 when word came of the Japanese surrender.
He finished his service as a military policeman in Japan before being honorably discharged.
Back in Morton, Mr. Pronesti attended classes in drafting and architectural design at Temple University, then became a stone mason.
One of his projects was the Valley Forge Memorial Bell Tower, which houses a carillon and a full-size replica of the Liberty Bell that traveled Pennsylvania between 1915 and 1920 as women pushed for the right to vote.
"He was one of the main stone masons on that project," said daughter Lisa Morrison. The building was completed in 1953.
Another of Mr. Pronesti's projects was the Chapel of St. Joseph on the campus of St. Joseph's University, and a stone walkway extending across City Avenue. The work was completed in 1995.
In addition to public buildings, Mr. Pronesti worked on private structures. He built his home on Kedron Avenue, across the street from Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. Whenever the wall surrounding the church was hit and damaged by cars, he quietly made repairs.
In 1960, he married his wife, Lee. The couple had three children.
Family was the pillar of Mr. Pronesti's life. His wife never drove, so each day he would drive her to and from her job as operating room coordinator at Methodist Hospital in South Philadelphia. Because she worked nights, he attended PTA meetings, and received much attention as the only father there, his daughter said.
The couple enjoyed taking art classes, attending the theater, and traveling. When in Italy, he spoke such fluent Italian that "everyone assumed he was a native," his family said. When he was growing up, his family spoke the language at home. He had to go to school to learn English, his daughter said.
Mr. Pronesti laid such a beautiful, herringbone-patterned brick sidewalk in front of his home that many stopped to admire it. He did stone work on his daughter's home in Chester County and his son's home in Bucks County.
In Morton, he built a stone foundation for his wife's greenhouse, and created a raised flower garden in the backyard, complete with fountain.
His last project, in 2007, was the creation of a stone base for a statue of St. Francis -- chainsaw art cut from a tree trunk -- in his front yard. When the wood statue decayed and had to be removed last November, people mourned, his daughter said.
"In Delaware County, it was considered a landmark," his daughter said. "My Dad enjoyed all the people who would stop and talk to him about it."
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by sons Frank and Gregory, and eight grandchildren.
Services were Saturday, Feb. 18.