Palm Aire's Gus Andreone captured hearts with his kind, gentle demeanor.
It was the middle of last May when Gus Andreone sat inside his Palm Aire home telling stories about his World War II experience serving under Gen. George S. Patton.
His sweeping hand gestures about the horrors of war were interrupted at times so he could wipe a tear from his eye.
Andreone was revisiting those horrific times in advance of his role as grand marshal of The Tribute to Heroes Parade on Memorial Day weekend in Lakewood Ranch. In his childhood, he had selected his own role models by watching adults he felt exhibited the most integrity, sometimes in parades. He wanted to ride in the parade to be a role model for this era's youngsters.
The parade was rained out.
Even though he was 106 at the time, there would always be next year. Andreone was that dependable.
But on Oct. 27, after a stroke moved him from his home to Tidewell Hospice House in Sarasota, Andreone died at 107.
Services will be held from 1-3 p.m., Wednesday (Oct. 31) at Robert Toale and Sons Funeral Home, 170 Honore Ave., Sarasota. A Blessing Service and Military Honors will be held at 3 p.m.
"He lived a long life," said his niece, Teresa Andreone of St. Louis. "We were all aware of his age. But the expectation was that he always would be there."
Andreone might be remembered best as a professional golf instructor — at the time of his death he was the oldest living member of the Professional Golfers Association — and a World World II hero — he earned three Bronze Stars. But the honor he carried through those arenas only reflected a man who lived by a higher code in all areas of his life.
Born into a coal miner's family to Eduardo and Teresa Andreone, Gus Andreone was the fourth of eight children. He was married twice in his life (his first wife, Henrietta, died in 1977 of breast cancer and his second wife, Betty, who is 101, survives him), but had no children.
He did have 14 nieces and nephews, and they had stories about Uncle Gus, although they asked not to be identified so no one had to be left out. They said Uncle Gus did special things for all of them.
One niece noted, "He was our great guardian angel. He appeared when something was needed."
Among the stories was one about one of Gus's young nieces who hated carrots. He knew she did love beets, so he marinated carrots in beet juice and told her they really were beets. "I knew they weren't she said, but I trusted him so much."
One of the nephews was attending the University of Pittsburgh and was low on funds. Unfortunately, his tires were bald on his car. Uncle Gus knew he couldn't afford tires, so he made up a story that his own car was in the shop and he needed to borrow his nephew's car. When he returned the car, it came with four new tires.
The stories were not exclusive to his family.
Palm Aire Country Club's Ed Kornberger said Andreone was the most beloved member of the club.
"Every one of our members has at least one story they will never forget about Gus," Kornberger said. "And I challenge you to hear anyone say anything about Gus other than he was gentle, caring human being."
Joe Beggs said Andreone "took him under his wing" because he couldn't stand watching Beggs' horrible swing on the driving range.
Beggs, of course, has his own Gus story.
"Gus was in his early 90s and we played a round together," said Beggs, who at the time was more than 20 years younger. "I had to call my friends and tell them I just got my butt whipped by a guy in his 90s playing the same tees. He shot under 90 that day, under his age, which he did often."
But Beggs also remembers Gus, and Betty, off the course.
"We used to say that midnight at Palm Aire is 9:30 p.m.," Beggs said. "That's when everyone would go home. But Gus and Betty would come on New Year's Eve and they would dance past 12. We all refused to leave until Gus and Betty went home."
Teresa Andreone characterized her uncle as a man who treated everyone with respect. "He could find the optimistic side of everything," she said. "And I never heard him use a swear word ... ever."
Betty Andreone, using her trademark humor, summed up her husband of 33 years.
"He always was kind to everyone," Betty said, pausing before delivering her punchline. "Even his wife."
(Read more about Gus Andreone and his military service in the Observer's 2017 Spirit of America edition at www.yourobserver.com/spirit-america-2017, or hear Andreone's stories of war in his own voice at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AVDjERmua-k)