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Friendship spanning 80 years

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Photo from Rich Kellman
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Four friends from Niagara Falls

By Rich Kellman

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wbfo/local-wbfo-961786.mp3

Niagara Falls, NY – Friendship on a Saturday morning can mean getting together over a cup of coffee. That's how it is for four guys from Niagara Falls who have known each other since childhood.

"We've been friends for over 80 years," says Tony DeMunda. Tony, along with his brother Joe, Mario Yarussi and Sam D'Angelo meet at the Marketside Restaurant each Saturday morning and catch up on their lives.

All four of them grew up together on 15th and 16th Streets in the Falls.

"They all assembled on my porch. but they wanted my mother's meatballs, fried meatballs." says Tony, "B ut we were welcome in each other's house, we were like family going into each other's house."

They played together, they helped each other. Joe recalls, "My friend over here," nodding toward Mario, "had a brand new Pontiac." A 1947 Pontiac. Green, shiny. "I just says, 'let me take your car, I'll Simoniz it for you and I'll pick you up after work.' And I went to pick him up, and a coal truck hit me. Brought him back the car and he says, 'Ahh, think nothing of it.' That's what kind of a guy this guy is."

Friendship is like that. Funny, forgiving, infuriating sometimes, but built on trust over time.

"People say they have thousands of friends on Facebook," we tell them. "Ah, if there's money involved, forget about it," says Mario. "If you don't meet them face to face, you don't know them."

"We know him," says Tony, pointing a thumb at Mario.

Tony takes a cloth patch from his wallet. It's from the 30th Army Division in World War II, a reminder of duty and sacrifice. They all served, all crossed into France at Normandy, Tony, three days after D-Day, and the others a few days later. Sam recalls, "We were bombed and strafed. that's about all I remember."

Joe went on to fight as an infantryman in France and Germany. He almost froze to death. "I spent a month in the hospital in Holland. Then I went back on duty and became part of an anti-tank unit," he says.

Tony pulls some small black and white photos from his pocket. They show the remains of prisoners at the Buchenwald concentration camp in Germany. Tony was there when Allied troops liberated the infamous death camp. "You get choked up when you see something like that," he says. "Makes you want to cry."

In Niagara Falls, lot has changed in the old neighborhood. The Falls population has dropped more than 40 percent in 40 years. and St. Joseph's Church at 14th and Pine is now part of a new combined parish called Holy Family.

For over a hundred years, St. Joseph's has nurtured the families of the four friends. it's where Joe and Barbara, and Tony and Nina were married. Nina passed away six years ago. "My friends were right there for me," says Tony. "Very supportive." And Mario lost his sister earlier this year.

They care for one another and expand their circle of friendship by bringing others inside. They treasure the good memories. It's been a friendship that's lasted longer than most of us have been alive.

"All of them, really good people," says restaurant owner Mike Poletti. A friendship that's celebrated each Saturday morning over coffee. We enjoy that they have their table" says Mike, "And it's fair to say if they come in and we have a full house, we'll make room for them."

More than 80 years as friends might make them truly what many people a fraction of their ages claim they have already, and call BFF, Best Friends Forever.