By John T. Gillespie
Special to The CS&T
Bob D’Anjolell’s mother told him he didn’t have the skills to be a doctor or a lawyer. So this ambitious son of second generation Italian-Americans saved his money and borrowed $70,000 to start a funeral home in Philadelphia’s Overbrook section.
That was in 1963. Today, Robert L. D’Anjolell Memorial Homes manage six homes in Broomall, Upper Darby, Frazer, Aston, Norristown and Trainor with a total of 650 funerals a year.
From a modest neighborhood, which he still visits as much as he can, the scrappy entrepreneur, who also ran a restaurant for a time in the 1970s, is today a respected leader in his Delaware County community.
He serves as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of Cabrini College, which recently bestowed on him an honorary degree in humane letters, Chairman of the Board of Managers of the Overbrook School for the Blind and member of the Delaware County and Main Line Chambers of Commerce.
Delaware County named him Italian-American Man of the Year in 1992, and Pennsylvania inducted him into the state’s Little League Hall of Fame in 1993 for his sponsorship of Little League activities. He and his wife, Maryann, belong to Our Lady of the Assumption Parish in Strafford, Chester County.
In the letter announcing his honorary degree from Cabrini, Theresa A. Cavanaugh, chair of the college’s Board of Trustees, wrote that “your personal and professional achievements reflect the values and ideals of Cabrini College, and they recognize you as an inspanidual whose life and work is an inspiration to students, faculty, staff, alumni and the community at large.”
D’Anjolell, 72, credits his good fortune to hard work, luck and the “good Lord.” He is an unabashed patriot who proclaims the virtues of America and the opportunities it gave him. It is no surprise that his favorite artist is that iconic depicter of Americana, Norman Rockwell.
Many years ago, D’Anjolell began collecting Rockwell memorabilia – everything from plates and drawings to figurines and bound copies of the Saturday Evening Post, which made Rockwell famous.
Today, the entire lower level of the octagonally shaped D’Anjolell funeral home on West Chester Pike in Broomall is a shrine to Rockwell and his art. D’Anjolell calls it the “largest private collection of Rockwell memorabilia in the world.”
Married twice to two “wonderful women” (his first wife died in an automobile accident in 1980), D’Anjolell has two sons, who help run the business, a daughter and eight grandchildren. He never misses a school or Little League event with his grandchildren. “I believe in family,” he says. His children attended Catholic schools, among them St. Joe’s Prep, Malvern Prep and Merion Mercy Academy.
These days, D’Anjolell’s sons, Robert Jr. and James, run the day-to-day operations of the business. The father continues to preside at funerals of people and families he knows. After 45 years in the business, he knows many. “I dedicated my life to this,” he says.
John Gillespie is a member of St. Bridget Parish and former reporter for the Philadelphia Evening & Sunday Bulletin.