Pelham Bay community and veterans advocate Lou James Durante passed away Saturday, Feb. 22 at age 85.
Durante was the commander of the Lawrence Keane Memorial Post #1458 in Pelham Bay for decades, and was a beloved fixture in local veterans circles.
He had been receiving treatment for Lymphoma, said his daughter Rosemarie Tangredi.
Durante was born in East Harlem and lived in Pelham Bay since his youth. He had been a member of Keane Pose 1498 for about 65 years.
Two ongoing projects consumed much of his volunteer work in recent years: placing the names of deceased veterans on a monument in Keane Square Park, and securing funding for renovations at the Keane Post’s building on Buhre Avenue.
“As the veterans would pass away, he would make a list of the names to put on the monument,” said Tangredi. “That was his passion, taking care of the Post building and making sure that all the names were on the memorial. Even when he was sick, he made sure the names of the veterans went onto the memorial every year.”
Tangredi remembered her father as a gentle man who was always there when she and her sister needed anything.
“He was the best person, a terrific man, and he put himself before everyone else,” she said. “He was so strong. He was our hero and we came to him for everything.”
She added: “We are very blessed to have him with us so long.”
Durante was a World War II Navy veteran who served in Europe. After he returned, he made his living as an electrician, she said.
Assemblyman Michael Benedetto, worked with Durante and secured a $125,000 grant for the Keane Post that allowed the legionnaires to install a new air-conditioning system and renovate their basement so that they could lease it out for parties and events and have a reliable stream of income.
At a time when a good number of American Legion posts were losing members, Durante kept the Keane Post vital and active, said Benedetto.
“He is a man I got to know and respect,” he said. “He was fair minded, even tempered, and a nice person to deal with. Whether it was money for fixing up the building or a program he was running, he would come to my office quite often with a project for the post, and it was hard to stay no.”
He added: “Let’s hope that someone takes up the mantle of Lou Durante.”
Durante said in an earlier interview that he was proud of helping to organize a Holiday toy drive that the Keane Post held for many years where community children got to visit with Santa Claus and leave with a toy. They would often host the event in a shuttered movie theater on Westchester Avenue that was later a bingo hall.
Durante is also survived by his wife Lilly Durante, whom he married in 1961, another daughter,Gina Navarro, and a grandson and great-grandson named after him.