In about a week, Historic Smithville and the Village Greene will come alive with Christmas decorations and holiday spirit, and fall decorations have already taken firm grasp of the Village Greene.
The decorations are a lasting reminder of a man who will always be part of the village. A man his wife came to refer to as the Mayor of Smithville after knowing him simply as “Bingo Bobby.” A man who was known for his “gruff” exterior and his generous nature.
Bob DeFillipo, 69, was entering his 13th year as owner of the Crafting Cellar in Historic Smithville. For many, he was the cornerstone of the village. For some, he was living proof that opposites attract. And for one young business owner, he was the grandfather she never had.
DeFillipo died Monday night, Nov. 19, after being struck by a car on Route 30 in Absecon, near the Home Depot. He was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Absecon Police Department. The 27-year-old female driver from Egg Harbor City was treated and transported to the AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center Mainland Campus by Absecon EMS, according to police.
DeFillipo’s sudden death took those who knew him by surprise.
“He had been through so much, and to then be hit by a car, it’s just not fair,” said Nancy DeFillipo, Bob’s wife of 46 years. “I couldn’t believe it.”
Those who knew him described him as resilient, having survived two heart attacks when he was in the car business.
“He died in the emergency room and they brought him back,” Nancy DeFillipo said. “He was at the doctor’s office for a checkup, and they said he was fine, and then when he was getting dressed, he broke out in a sweat. He had another heart attack.”
It was those heart attacks that prompted him to leave the car industry and move to Four Seasons in Smithville.
Shortly thereafter, he opened the Crafting Cellar. He was only going to run the store for a few months while he sought another job, but a few months turned into 13 years.
He also underwent knee replacement surgery, aortic bypass surgery, experienced constant stomach obstructions and battled bladder cancer.
“He would get out of the hospital and he would be here the next day,” Village Greene co-owner Wendie Fitzgerald said. “He was always resilient.”
Nancy DeFillipo met her husband when she was 17, through her mother. When Bob DeFillipo was 23, he got out of the Navy and was unsure what to do with himself. He began attending Bingo nights every Friday, where he met Nancy’s mother and her friends and aunts.
“They called him Bingo Bob,” Nancy DeFillipo said. “That was all I ever heard about. He had fun playing Bingo with these old women. I think his mother was starting to worry about him.”
Nonetheless, Nancy’s mother invited Bingo Bob over to play Poker. That was the first time Nancy met her future husband.
“I wasn’t impressed,” Nancy DeFillipo said. “I stayed for a little bit. My aunt couldn’t wait to talk to me. I said I didn’t like him.”
The same aunt arranged a date between the two. They attended a VFW dance together.
“We enjoyed ourselves,” Nancy DeFillipo said. “We started dating.”
They got engaged and married. They had three children together, including daughters Deena and Nicole, and son Michael. He introduced her to a world outside her own.
“He took me to my first Broadway play (Hello Dolly) and my first big restaurant experience was with Bob,” Nancy DeFillipo said. “We went to the Russian Tea Room. I didn’t know what it was, but when I told people, they couldn’t believe it. It was a big deal.”
“He was very-well liked,” said Michael, who knew DeFillipo on and off for about 10 years. “My mom played cards with him at the Four Seasons (where DeFillipo lived) and that’s how I got to know him. I went to the casinos and barbecues with him. He loved sweets. I would always bring him pastries and he would keep snacks under his cash register. He was a hard worker. He worked six days here and spent Monday at home painting.”
He was also known as someone who was concerned for others.
“He would always ask about my wife and check up on her,” said Herban Legend owner Brian Johnson, whose wife has been sick for two years. “He would ask about her, she would ask about him.”
“My brother had back surgery and was out of work,” Nancy DeFillipo said. “He was in a bad financial situation. It was Christmas time and he had no money for presents. Bob went to Toys R Us by himself, bought presents for the kids, wrapped them and took them to my brother’s house. He was a good shopper. He always made sure the kids had winter coats and shoes. He was always caring and thinking of others.”
DeFillipo also took the lead when Sherry Townsend, who also works in Smithville lost her husband earlier this year. He purchased a card and collected money from the other shop owners and workers in Smithville.
“He was cantankerous, but he had a heart,” said Johnson, who delivered the card and money along with DeFillipo.
“It floored me. I was so appreciative,” Townsend said. “He was a really good guy. Under his gruff exterior, he had a good heart and soul.
“This is such a good group, and such a caring community.”
Townsend appreciated DeFillipo’s “unique sense of humor” and his honesty.
He had a sense of humor, and he wasn’t shy.
“He would dance on our porch,” said Mike Spagnola, co-owner of the Underground punk rock shop positioned directly across from DeFillipo’s store. “He didn’t get (the music), but he would stand out there and do a two-step. I told him, ‘Bob, you have to stop before you scare away my customers.’”
“Bob was a good dancer,” Nancy DeFillipo said. “He won a contest in Miami one time. He was a heck of a dancer.”
Spagnola and DeFillipo were the only two store owners in Smithville the day after the derecho that took the county by surprise in June.
“We were the only two people in the whole village. It was hot and there was no electricity. We were sitting on the porch drinking beers, which I thought was funny because Bob never drank,” Spagnola said.
Mike and his wife and Underground co-owner Lucy Spagnola met DeFillipo while they were employees at another shop in Smithville, before they opened Underground. Once they opened the store, they got to know him a lot better. On cold days, Lucy Spagnola would pick DeFillipo up at his house and drive him to work.
“Opposites attract,” Mike Spagnola said.
Many days over the past year, DeFillipo could be found outside with the Spagnolas, Through the Looking Glass owner Wendy Leaa Birkbeck and Candlewyck Cottage owner Ashley Cook, who described DeFillipo as the grandfather she never had.
“I’m thankful for Bob. He helped me a lot and gave me a lot of support,” said Cook, who opened her store at the age of 19 and moved it to Smithville when she was 23. “He was a big influence on my life here. I miss everything about him.”
Cook said she could talk to him about anything, and he was always encouraging.
“He told me if it’s something I love, I should never give up,” Cook said. “He would tell me not to give up, and it meant a lot coming from him.”
Birkbeck’s son worked for DeFillipo, and her daughter spent time working at both the Crafting Cellar and Through the Looking Glass.
“He did a lot for my kids,” Birkbeck said. “He would do anything for anybody.”
As a result, everyone in the village knew him, loved him and had great respect for him, both for what he did and how he did it.
“He had a strong artistic side,” Johnson said. “He was a businessman, but he was also an artist.”
When customers pulled into the Village Greene side of Smithville, the first thing they would see is DeFillipo’s crafts and decorations. According to Village Greene co-owner Ed Fitzgerald, DeFillipo wasn’t planning on leaving any time soon.
“He said he would stay here another 12 years,” Ed Fitzgerald said.
“A number of his decorations are in our village throughout the holidays,” said Wendie Fitzgerald, noting the scarecrows, poinsettias and sunflowers are all DeFillipo’s handiwork. “They make the village a nice place to look at during the holidays.
“He will always be with us because his handiwork is here. We will continue with his traditions. He will be greatly missed.”
“He would sing every single day in this stupid high pitched voice,” Nancy DeFillipo said. “I would give anything to hear it one more time.”