The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

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May 19, 2013

A Johnstown icon passes on

JOHNSTOWN — Carmel C. Coco of Johnstown, who was known for his skill at repairing shoes as well as his love for music, died peacefully at home on Saturday at age 95.

Coco is probably best known as the co-owner of the Yankee Shoe Repair Factory on Bedford Street in downtown Johnstown, which he ran with his brother, Sam.

Carmel Coco’s son, Larry Coco, said the shop started out as a shoe repair shop when his grandfather opened it in 1921. After his father took over at age 21, it was expanded into sales of orthotic shoes as well as shoe repair.

“He said he fitted five generations of people with foot problems,” Larry Coco said. “Doctors would write a prescription to modify their shoes, and Dad would fill it.”

The business won the Eastern Silver Cup for best shoe repair on the eastern seaboard five times and won the National Silver Cup for best shoe repair in the country in 1963.

Carmel Coco and his brother were inducted into the Business Hall of Fame in 2007.

“Daddy said he loved the city of Johnstown and loved life and was very patriotic,” said his daughter, Joselle Skelley of Johnstown. “He loved it when customers would say they remembered coming in and being fitted for shoes when they were little. He also loved a challenge. When someone came in who couldn’t get the right fit, he loved taking it on.”

Other family members said nothing could stop Carm Coco. He rebuilt his shop after major floods in 1936 and 1977, and again when a fire razed the entire block in 1974.

Coco’s love of music began while he was recovering from a leg injury at age 10 and learned how to play the bassoon from his uncle.

His parents brought in a doctor from Boston to save his leg. They mortgaged their home to afford the treatment, even though it was during the Depression. As a result, the bank called in the loan instead of working out a payment plan, and the family was left with nowhere to turn.

“Our grandfather was so upset, he had our aunt write a letter to Mrs. (Eleanor) Roosevelt saying if this was the way things were, he didn’t want anything to do with it,” Larry Coco said. “He sent back his World War I medals. Mrs. Roosevelt had her secretary call the bank, and they made arrangements.

“As a result, a program was established on a federal level for people who were losing their homes.”

The story is told in the book “A Letter to Mrs. Roosevelt” by another daughter, Carmine Coco De Young of Ridgefield, Conn.

After practicing his bassoon many hours each day, Coco became an accomplished musician and was offered three full music scholarships at the Julliard, Oberlin and Curtis schools of music when he graduated from Johnstown High School. Despite the honor, Coco turned down the scholarships because he wanted to spend his life working at Yankee Shoe Repair alongside his brother.

He decided to keep his music as a hobby. Coco said in a 2010 Tribune-Democrat article that he had no regrets because he has helped a lot of people over the years.

“He said God gave him a gift to help others, and he never did it for recognition,” his daughter said. “He enjoyed helping others and bringing them comfort.”

Coco was a member of Johnstown Symphony Orchestra for 61 years and was inducted into the 2010 Artists Hall of Fame. He retired from the orchestra in 1996 and was its oldest living retired member until his death.

“He loved the symphony,” his daughter said. “He was honored to be a part of it. He played the very first concert at Roxbury Bandshell.”

Coco also had played bassoon for high school musicals and Johnstown Reed Band.

He is survived by another daughter, Risa Coco of Johnstown, as well as nine grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

Frank Duca Funeral Home, Westmont Chapel, 1622 Menoher Blvd., is handling arrangements.

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