Daniel Joseph Rufo, 83, shoe merchant for six decades

April 22, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Daniel Joseph Rufo, a southern Baltimore merchant who lent his name to his shoe store for six decades, died of cancer Wednesday at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 83 and lived in Canton.

Until he last waited on a customer in early February, he had spent almost 67 years in the shoe selling and repair business. His South Charles Street store -- named Dan Brothers after himself and a stepbrother -- remains a busy, independently owned operation. He worked six days a week until illness forced his retirement.

"He was one of the pillars of the community," said Joseph J. DiBlasi, a friend, former city councilman and a sports marketing consultant. "You could go to him for anything, and he would find a way to help people. He was generous and would donate to any cause."

Known by his many customers as the "Michelangelo of shoe repair," he could take a pair of shoes and cut them down to fit an odd-sized foot. He also dyed shoes -- and could accommodate a buyer's budget and pocketbook.

He also supplied shoes for the films "Avalon" and "Tin Men." His shoeshine stand was used in the Eddie Murphy movie "Distinguished Gentleman."

Born in Baltimore's Little Italy, he attended local schools and the Polytechnic Institute. He began work at 16 at a shoe repair shop he eventually bought at 1032 S. Charles St. near Cross Street Market.

In 1939, he and his half-brother, Daniel DiTonno, renamed the store Dan Brothers. They remained partners until Mr. DiTonno's death in 1989.

In addition to his individual customers, Mr. Rufo had a contract with Baltimore Police Department, downtown hotels and building contractors, for whom he supplied work shoes.

His customers included scores of professional athletes -- NBA players Wes Unseld, Muggsy Bogues and Reggie Williams and baseball players Rod Carew, Jesse Barfield and Roger Clemens. New York Knicks forward Larry Johnson left his credit card on file at the store for mail-order purchases.

Mr. Rufo hung their photos on his shop's walls.

His store held an extensive inventory, including women's and children's shoes as well as men's shoes made in exotic animal skins such as ostrich, lizard and alligator.

In his free time, he played golf at Clifton Park and competed annually in the Save a Heart Tournament. Each week he also danced at the Hotel Belvedere's ballroom.

His marriage to Estelle Kuchick Rufo ended in divorce.

Funeral services are at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 101 Church Lane, Cockeysville.

He is survived by a daughter, Linda J. Heaps of Cockeysville; a sister, Victoria Banaszkiewicz of Baltimore; two grandsons; and companion Madalyn Petroff of Perry Hall.

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