A House for the Late Years
Mary Melendez doted on her husband and four children. About nine months ago, she moved her 9-to-5 work schedule at Fiduciary Trust up an hour so she could spend more time with them in the evenings.
Her 18-year-old son, Ricky, was graduating from Marine training on Sept. 13 in North Carolina, and she was eager to attend. "Ricky wasn't here, but she wrote to him every day about everything, including the traffic, or what the family had for dinner," said Kathi Olivo, her niece, "Once, he asked her not to describe their dinners in so much detail because she made him hungry."
Mrs. Melendez, 44, and her husband, Raymon, recently left Jersey City and bought a four-bedroom ranch-style house in Stroudsburg, Pa. "They were looking forward to growing old together in that house," her niece said. "We all miss her, especially Raymon. They were together for so long. He applied for her death certificate on Sept. 27, their 26th wedding anniversary."
Profile published in THE NEW YORK TIMES on October 3, 2001.
Mary Melendez, 44, proud Marine mom
In June, Mary Melendez threw a party for her son, Ricky, who was heading to Marine Corps boot camp in Parris Island, S.C. On the front lawn of her home in Stroudsburg, Pa., Mrs. Melendez, a native and longtime resident of Jersey City, built an obstacle course.
Guests -- guests who dared, anyway -- had to crawl through giant plastic tubes, jump through hula hoops, and throw darts at various targets. At the end of the obstacle course sat a man in a lawn chair, who would reward you for your efforts by squirting you with a water pistol.
Mrs. Melendez and her husband, Ramon, planned to drive to Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia to attend their son's graduation on Sept. 15.
She never got the chance.
Mrs. Melendez, 44, a secretary and vice president at the Fiduciary Trust Co., was on the 90th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower when United Flight 175 slammed into it on Sept. 11.
"She called her husband at 8:46 that morning," a minute after American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower, said Kathi Olivo of Bayonne, her niece. "She said, 'I don't want you to worry. It's not my building.' He said, 'Get out.' She said, 'Okay.' Whether she did, no one knows."
Mrs. Melendez met her future husband at Dickinson High School in Jersey City. The couple had four children, all boys -- Ramon Jr., 22; Ricky, 18; Jesse, 10; and Tyler, 6.
"When you went to her house, you were either bringing something for someone's party, or her kids were selling something for school," Olivo said, laughing. "The inside joke was that you were always being hit up for money."
Mrs. Melendez was "happy-go-lucky," the kind of person "everyone wanted to be with," according to her niece. She and her husband moved to Stroudsburg 11/2 years ago. She took a bus from the Poconos to New York City every work day, a two-hour ride. About a year ago, she changed her hours from 9-to-5 to 8-to-4 so she could get home earlier and be with her children.
"If she kept (her original hours), she would not have been (in the World Trade Center) when it happened," Olivo said.
Mrs. Melendez had worked at Fiduciary Trust for 15 years.
"She was a vice president, and had no more than a high school education," her niece said. "That tells you right there what kind of intelligence and ability (she had)."
A doting mother, she would write her son, Ricky, every day while he was at Parris Island.
"She would write even if she babbled on about work or what they were eating that day," Olivo said. "Her son wrote back, 'Mom, don't describe the food in such detail. The food's not so good here.' "
Olivo sat with Ramon Melendez, Mrs. Melendez's husband, on the porch of the Melendez home two weeks ago. Suddenly, he broke down. "This wasn't the way it was supposed to happen," he said. "We were supposed to grow old together, watch the kids grow up."
"He can't even speak (sometimes)," Olivo said. "When we went to the funeral home, I had to answer all the questions. He couldn't do it. He would nod occasionally."
On Sept. 27, Mr. Melendez went into New York City to apply for a death certificate for his missing wife. On that day, the couple would have celebrated their 26th wedding anniversary.
Profile by Peter Genovese published in THE STAR-LEDGER.