For more than 60 years, Salvatore John Bondi was the genial proprietor of Sal's Barber Shop, a Brookline establishment and quasi-neighborhood clubhouse where a generation of guys who grew up together could show up for a haircut, a check of the sports scores on TV and camaraderie.
"He just loved people," said his son, Salvatore Joseph, known as "Little Sal" to customers.
Filled with photos of friends and family, the Brookline Boulevard business was the older Mr. Bondi's beachhead. He lived above the shop for most of his life and his commute consisted of walking down a flight of stairs.
"He cut hair up until his early 80s. He didn't know what to do with himself if he wasn't doing something," said Lynn Bondi, his daughter-in-law, who lives in Dormont.
Mr. Bondi, 92, died Thursday at St. Norbert's Personal Care Home in Overbrook. He had dementia.
"He was like a big teddy bear," Mrs. Bondi said. "You just wanted to love on him and kiss him all the time. ... I would take him to a doctor appointment and he would come home and say, 'Thank you, Lynn, thank you so much.' "
The son of Sicilian immigrants, Mr. Bondi grew up in Morningside and graduated from Arsenal High School. During World War II, he enlisted at age 20 in 1942 and participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day in June 1944. He was an anti-tank gun crewman with the U.S. Army. Wounded five times, he was awarded the Purple Heart and the Silver Star.
During the Battle of the Bulge in late 1944 and into 1945, he was assigned to the Third Army and served as one of Gen. George S. Patton's personal drivers. He was taken prisoner during that battle and held at Nuremberg for nearly five months before Patton returned to liberate him. Mr. Bondi also received a POW medal.
After the war, he worked as a barber at the Duquesne Club, Downtown, then opened his barber shop in 1947, his son said. When customers arrived, he would play their favorite Italian singers -- Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Dean Martin, Louis Prima.
He married Josephine and the couple lived in Brookline. They socialized often with friends during evenings of cards or dancing.
Mr. Bondi "would go to the cellar every night after dinner" where he fixed radios, stereos and televisions. "He was just really good with this hands. He would not come up until it was time for bed," his daughter-in-law recalled.
Those skills extended to making repairs on the three-story building originally owned by his in-laws. "He'd walk around the building looking for something to do," Mrs. Bondi said.
In 2006, "Little Sal" returned to Pittsburgh after running a barber shop in Westwood, Calif. That year, they gutted the barber shop, installing a new floor, sinks and work stations. A dropped ceiling was removed, exposing an old tin ceiling. Mr. Bondi continued to display his large collection of shaving mugs.
The shop reopened in July 2006. "Sal and his dad were able to cut hair together," Mrs. Bondi said.
The younger Mr. Bondi observed: "You can say anything you want in a barber shop and get away with it. Freedom of speech -- guys like that."
Besides his son, Mr. Bondi is also survived by his daughter, Agnes of Brookline, and one grandson.
Friends may call Monday from 2 to 8 p.m. at the Frank F. DeBor Funeral Home, 1065 Brookline Blvd. A Mass will be offered Tuesday at 10 a.m. in Church of the Resurrection, Brookline, followed by entombment with full military honors in Queen of Heaven Cemetery, McMurray. Memorials may be made to the Disabled American Veterans Association, 1000 Liberty Ave., Pittsburgh 15222.
Marylynne Pitz: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1648.