Walter John Tofel Jr., 74, of Bennington, VT, passed away peacefully In July. Walter was born January 16, 1945, in Newark, New Jersey. He married Carmella Ann Graziadei on May 15, 1965 and they were together for 51 years before she passed in 2016.
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Walt was a devoted husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather as well as a brilliant small business owner. He was born in Newark, New Jersey to Mary Poturaj, a homemaker, and Walter John Tofel, a tool and die maker. He was the third of four children and grew up in modest means. During his early life he attended St. Casmir's Elementary School. Walt was a self starter and took pride in his first job, a paper route for the Newark Star-Ledger delivering over 200 daily papers on a bike he built himself from junk yard parts - which he used to supplement the family income and provide money to his mother to pay for groceries. Walt prepared for vocational trades at Eastside High School in Newark NJ and graduated in June of 1962. He took at job at Krementz Jewelry as a machine operator and later as a designer and production manager. Several of his designs were top sellers for the company which ended up the beginning of a career creating fine jewelry.
In 1965 he married Carmella Ann Graziadei and they lived in both Kearny and Orange New Jersey. During that time he joined the Army Reserves and earned the rank of Drill Sergeant. Their first child, Michele was born in 1968. Walt and Carm yearned to raise their family away from city life so they moved to a farm house in Bennington, Vermont in 1970, when Walt accepted a job as a manager at Ed Levins - a jewelry design studio. He continued to develop his skill creating handcrafted jewelry in the shop and also sold his own designs at trade shows and craft fairs. In 1971, their son Jonathan was born while the family was living in their first of two homes on Greenview Drive.
Walt's love of the ocean prompted them to move to Satellite Beach, Florida in 1974 where he continued to create and sell handcrafted jewelry, but after six months, they missed the seasons and returned to Vermont, briefly to Northfield, Vermont, before purchasing their second home on Greenview Drive in Bennington, where they remained for the next 20 years. During that time, Walt developed a thriving business working out of the shop in his basement, repairing jewelry for jewelry stores in Vermont and New England. He was an active
husband, parent, and neighbor and enjoyed family vacations at the ocean on the east coast from Maine to Florida. He loved fishing, boating, hunting, hiking and walking every evening through town and the former Southern VT College grounds. Walt served for many years as a member of the Lions Club and other organizations. Walt was proud of his children as they grew up, graduated from Mount Anthony High School and then both attended and graduated from the University of Vermont.
In 1994, the ocean called again, and he and Carm moved with his mother in law Ann to Venice, Florida, but after only six months, they were homesick for Bennington and returned once again. It was on that return visit that Walt realized his dream of opening a jewelry store. For the next few decades he owned and operated Tofel Jewelers on Main Street where he designed, made, and sold his own jewelry in addition to fixing watches and repairing jewelry. Although it was a challenge to operate a local business while competing against the purchasing power of larger jewelry chains, department stores and the rise of internet .coms, Walt was dedicated to keeping his Main Street business as a town fixture, including his employment of numerous local staff members, by providing personalized attention to his customers and unique hand-made items found only in Bennington Vermont. When the economy shifted in the early 2000's and again in 2008, Walt adapted and changed with it - opening up his own internet business and identifying new ways to help the people of Bennington and other local communities with their Estate Jewelry needs. Finally, after over 40 years in the jewelry business he decided to retire in 2010.
Walt was a lifelong learner. He tried his hand at construction, electrical work, plumbing, and landscaping, He taught himself woodworking, painting, and pottery. Walt embraced technology and learned how to use computers to create advertisements, signs, books for his grandkids, and even a web-based business after he retired. He built custom cabinets and carved walking sticks. Walt fished, hunted, grew trees, gardens and grape vines. He could throw an amazing party and was generous with food, drink, and laughter. In recent years, at the encouragement of his children, he got a passport and took two trips out of the country, one to Belize with his son's family and a second to Puerto Rico with his daughter's family. Walt fulfilled a lifelong dream and bought his first motorcycle and taught himself how to ride it, often enjoying bike rides during the summer. Walt was very generous with his time, support and love.
Walter will be deeply missed by his family including his daughter, Michele Tofel Murray and son-in-law Joe Murray of Calais, VT, his son, Jonathan Tofel of Denver, CO; six grandchildren: Brittany Murray, Justin Murray, Caroline Murray, Aria Tofel, Ellery Tofel, and Juno Tofel; great granddaughter Luna Murray; sisters Joan Guarino of New Jersey, Mary Tofel of Arizona, and brother Thomas Tofel of California.
Visitation will be at 10 AM on Friday, August 16, 2019 at the Mahar & Son Funeral Home on Main Street in Bennington. Funeral service will immediately follow at 10:30 AM Friends and family are invited to a gathering directly after the service at 1 Crestwood Drive in Bennington to share memories to celebrate Walt and a life well lived. Memorial contributions may be made to the Bennington Merchants Association through the office of Mahar & Son Funeral Home, 628 Main Street, Bennington, VT 05201.
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