Life gave Nick Milazzo plenty of reasons to play the blues.
He and his wife, Kathy, had two sons, Nick Jr. and Daniel. Both died when they were just 27, about four years apart, apparently of a congenital heart condition.
And Nick Sr. himself learned he had glioblastoma, an aggressive brain cancer, in late 2012. He fought it until he died last month at 58 — and somehow, his family said, he kept a positive attitude.
His music helped. Nick, who lived his life in Hammonton, took accordion lessons as a kid, grew up playing in bands and kept playing all his life — although his sister-in-law and close friend, Bobby Cress, said Nick had a knack for almost any instrument, from drums to piano to guitar and more.
Some of the happiest times in the family’s life involved nights when Nick would start playing and friends would drop by to play, sing and turn the music into a celebration.
“There was always music in the house,” said Cress, of Atlantic City, Kathy Milazzo’s older sister. “And it was always happy stuff. ... He still rejoiced.”
But music was not Nick’s only talent. He could build or fix just about anything — even though he worked in the casino business, and later as a salesman for a flooring company. And everything he did, he insisted on doing as a volunteer, as a friend.
“He did my whole kitchen, and he wouldn’t take any money,” said Cress, who, as a veteran real estate agent, knows how much a modern kitchen costs — and knows Nick’s labor was worth “thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars.”
Brad Cress, Bobby’s husband, is a retired Atlantic City firefighter. He remembers Nick getting mad at him because Brad didn’t call Nick in to help him with a project on the dock at the Cress home in Atlantic City’s Chelsea Heights neighborhood.
Nick kept his own boat there, and he loved boating. But he would arrive expecting to go out for a ride, see that Brad needed help, “And he’d bawl me out — say, ‘Why didn’t you call me?’ ... It’s hard to find people like him, and the world needs a lot more people like him,” Brad said.
There was more to Nick’s life. He loved traveling, he loved food and he loved his God. He was a regular for 40 years in Hammonton’s traditional Our Lady of Mt. Carmel procession and a regular at Mass at St. Joseph’s Church, even when he needed a wheelchair to get there.
His funeral was at his lifelong church, too, and to Bobby Cress, one moment from the service may sum up his life better than anything else.
Before he died, Nick wrote a note to his family and friends. The main part of his message, she said, was sincere thanks to everyone who had let him do house and other projects for them — free — over the decades of his life.
A Life Lived appears Tuesdays and Saturdays.
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