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Deacon energized by love of church, heritage

| Monday, Jan. 21, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Joseph Mell taught Sunday school in St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks with his wife, keeping the altar clean for services, lighting the candles and ensuring that the colors corresponded to the seasons and holy days.

He loved his church so much that he joined the Late Vocations Program on the South Side and was ordained a deacon in the Russian Orthodox Church when he was 50 years old.

“He had such a profound love for the church, his heritage and his religion,” said son Gregory Mell of McCandless.

Father Deacon Joseph C. Mell, formerly of Stowe, died Saturday, Jan. 19, 2013, of heart problems in his home in McCandless. He was 59.

He was born in Stowe to Olga and Joseph Mell. Although he was half Russian and half Italian, his mother made sure he understood his Russian heritage, especially the Russian Orthodox Church. Later, he helped people from the church trace their Russian roots.

He graduated from Stowe High School and received a bachelor's degree from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Unable to find a job as a social studies teacher, he attended the Pittsburgh School of Barbering and obtained a barber's license. He later reserved giving haircuts only to his son and friends.

“I loved when my dad gave me a haircut,” Gregory Mell said. “He had all the professional tools — the cape, the clippers. He would cut my hair, and we would talk about anything — politics, life.”

Nancy Mell, 71, of McCandless met her future husband through the church. He was president of the Russian Orthodox Art Club, a church social club to which she belonged.

She noticed how her husband took care of his mother, who had a bad heart, hip and back.

“How a man treats his mother is how he would treat his wife. The age difference didn't matter. We just loved each other,” she said.

They were married on Nov. 10, 1984. About three years later, he got a job with AT&T handling complicated business bills. He worked for the company until the time of his death. He was also a union steward for the Communications Workers of America.

Gregory Mell followed in his father's footsteps. He received a bachelor's degree from his father's alma mater, became a social studies teacher in the McGuffey School District and union representative for the McGuffey Education Association.

“He was so proud of the fact that I am a teacher,” Gregory Mell said.

He recalled his father's generosity.

“When it was cold outside and there was frost and snow, he would park his car outside so you could park in the garage,” Gregory Mell said. “He inconvenienced himself to make it easier for someone else.”

In addition to his wife and son, survivors include sisters Leslie Wokutch of Robinson, Heidi Meyers of Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, and Rosemary Homer of Kennedy Township.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. Monday in St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in McKees Rocks. Funeral services will be at 7 p.m. Monday. Divine Liturgy will be at 10 a.m. Tuesday. Burial will follow in Mt. Calvary Cemetery.

Valerian F. Szal Funeral Home Inc., 238 Helen St. in McKees Rocks, is in charge of arrangements.

Bill Zlatos is a staff writerfor Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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