William John Bruno
August 14, 1923 - February 25, 2021
Miami Beach, Florida - William John Bruno, 97, of Tullahoma, TN, died Thursday, February 25, 2021, at Mount Sinai Medical Center in Miami Beach, FL.
To quote a friend upon learning of his passing, Bill Bruno was a special light that brightened every room he was in, and we were all lucky to experience him, even if it was just for a little while. Never could truer words have been spoken.
Born on August 14, 1923 in Rillton, PA, Bill — or "Chubby" as he was known to his family because of the rail thin frame he had as a child — was the fifth of eight children born to John Bruno and Catherine Semenko.
A proud member of our Greatest Generation, Bill enlisted in the Army Air Corps as a 19-year-old in 1942, and served on the Western Front during WWII, along with two of his brothers. Between May 1944 and October 1944, Bill completed his tour of duty with 25 combat missions as a tail gunner on a B-17 bomber as a member of the legendary "Mighty Eighth Air Force" in the European Theater. Flying as part of the 8th Air Force's 398th Bomber Group, Bill and his squadron attacked coastal defenses and enemy troops during the D-Day Invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, in addition to completing missions over Berlin and Paris, and other targets in enemy occupied Europe. Bill earned the rank of Staff Sergeant and was honorably discharged in October of 1945, having earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for extraordinary achievement, as well as the Air Medal with 3 Oak Leaf Clusters for exceptionally meritorious achievement while participating in sustained bomber combat operations, the Good Conduct Medal, and two Battle Stars.
On September 6, 1947, Bill married Elizabeth Grdijan — the love of his life. They had three daughters, Karen, Janice, and Patti. It was Bill and Liz's devotion to each other, and their love for those three girls and their families, that shaped their lives and future together.
Bill attended Duquesne University on the GI Bill, and earned his bachelor's degree in Chemistry, with a minor in Math, in 1951. Upon graduation, he joined Schenley Distillers and began a career he loved that spanned four decades with the liquor industry giant. Bill rose through the ranks to be named the Master Distiller for George Dickel Tennessee Whisky which, as he would proudly proclaim to anyone who would listen, is the best sippin' whisky around.
In 1978, Bill's role at Dickel brought he and Liz to Tullahoma, TN, which became their adopted hometown. Together they put down roots in Tullahoma and never left — even after Bill's retirement in 1989 — as they forged strong bonds and built special friendships that lasted the rest of their lives. They were active members of St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church and the Tullahoma Community. Lakewood Golf Course & Country Club was the hub of their social activity, especially during their retirement years as they enjoyed countless hours and good times spent with close friends on the golf course and in the clubhouse.
Bill was a man of many talents, passions, and hobbies — he was smart, witty, and quick to turn a phrase; he loved to tell stories, and he took great joy out of being with and around people; he was a hell'uva golfer who was still shooting his age and taking money off the "young guys" at Lakewood CC (meaning retirees younger than 90) at 95 years old; he tended garden, mixed a mean Manhattan, and cooked Italian food with the best of them; he rooted for the Steelers for 80 years, never missed Jeopardy, and did a crossword puzzle (or two) a day up until the end; he loved to dance, listen to Big Band music, and (hear himself) sing; and he had a distinct, infectious laugh, that filled the room.
Nothing, though, could match the pride and joy Bill got out of his family. During his 30 years of retirement, Bill reveled in spending his falls with his daughter Karen Ganter's family in State College, PA. As the wife of a Penn State Football Coach and the mother of four sons who played college football, Karen's house was a busy one in autumn, and Bill loved to be a part of the action. As Karen's boys grew, Bill was their ultimate fan and a fixture in the stands at their games. He would often watch one of his grandsons play for State College High on a Friday night, and then hop in the car the next morning to go see another one of the boys play for Princeton, Penn State, or Cornell. Regardless of the venue (or the outcome), Bill could always be counted upon to be waiting on the field, or outside the locker room, to deliver a post-game bear-hug.
For the winter, Bill would migrate to Miami Beach, where he looked forward to long holiday seasons spent with his daughter Patti Bruno, and his daughter Janice Cefalo and her husband Jimmy Cefalo, along with their three daughters. Bill was no stranger to being in a family of women, and he cherished the time spent being surrounded by two generations of his girls – the Bruno and Cefalo women. All three of his granddaughters are talented performers and active in theatre, and Bill very much enjoyed following and attending their latest endeavors.
The loss of loved ones is an unavoidable and sad burden of living into one's tenth decade. In 2002, Bill endured the sudden and tremendous losses of his beloved daughter Karen and wife Liz just a few months apart, not to mention the loss of his of his brothers, sisters, and other friends and family along the way. Karen and Liz were never far from Bill's mind, and he spent the last twenty years of his life celebrating their memory by surrounding himself with their family and friends. He continued to spend his falls with Karen's husband, Fran Ganter, and their boys in State College, and the winters with Janice, Patti, and family in Miami. In between, he stayed amazingly young and spry by keeping up and active with the friends he and Liz made in Tullahoma – a routine of golf matches in the mornings, cards when it rained, and drinks and dinner with old friends every Friday night for thirty years of retirement is tough to argue with. Bill never stopped enjoying people and he never stopped living for the moment – case-in point, in his mid-nineties, Bill threw out the first pitch at a Pittsburgh Pirates' game and was a groomsman in his grandson's wedding.
Bill spent his twilight years living the good life surrounded by his daughters, Patti and Janice, and Janice's family in Miami Beach.
In addition to his daughters Janice and Patti, Bill is survived by his two sons-in-law, Fran Ganter and Jimmy Cefalo, his seven grandchildren, Jonathan (Julie), Christo, Jason (Casie), Ben, Mia, Katie, and Ava, and five great grandchildren, not to mention a legion of family and friends spread across the Pittsburgh area where he spent his youth, the State College area where he spent his falls, and especially his adopted hometown of Tullahoma – people whose lives he brightened over his 97 years on this earth, and who enriched his in return.
Later in life, Bill would often say that he couldn't figure out what he'd done to get so lucky. It should have been the rest of us that were asking that same question. Bill Bruno will always be loved, he will always be missed, and he will never, ever, be forgotten.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held privately at the convenience of the family. A celebration of life to honor Bill Bruno's memory will be held at a later date.
Burial will be in Pine Hall Cemetery in State College, PA, where Bill will be laid to rest alongside his beloved Liz and Karen.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made in Bill's name to The Karen Bruno Ganter Memorial Fund online at centre-foundation.org/donate_now,
or checks may be mailed to Centre Foundation, 1377 Ridge Master Drive, State College, PA 16803.