Connie Avrami spent 59 years as a member of Local 54 of UNITE-HERE.
Born (as Constantine) in 1923, he started working in his hometown’s hotels at 14, in the Boardwalk’s landmark Ritz-Carlton. In 2006, his union honored him as its longest-working member — ever.
He was still working then, at 83, at Caesars Atlantic City, where he had started as a waiter in 1979. Before that, he worked at a long list of local hotels, including the St. Charles, the Brighton, the Traymore and the Ambassador.
But Avrami, who lived mainly in Ventnor and died last month at 89, didn’t wait on tables straight through from ages 14 to 83. He also had a job making saltwater taffy in Atlantic City, and in World War II, he had to learn a whole different style of service — when he was drafted as a military policeman.
His work at war included directing traffic during the invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, after an amphibious craft dropped him in the water off the beach. He had to make his way to land, and unfortunately, he couldn’t swim. He wrote in his war journal — which his two daughters still have — that he saw other Americans drowning or getting shot as they tried to get to land. But Avrami reached the beach, never left his post and won a Bronze Star for bravery on D-Day.
After he returned from the war, he married the former Lydia Daka in 1947. When Lydia started suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Connie served her faithfully — until he got the disease himself. In 2008, the couple had to leave their Ventnor home to become roommates in Meadowview, Atlantic County’s nursing home, until he died.
But for all those decades as a waiter, Connie was a role model to his younger colleagues and a valuable helper to his customers.
“In Europe, waiters were skilled professionals, and were proud to be that,” said Barb Devlin, who started working with Connie as a Caesars banquet server 30 years ago. “We’ve lost a lot of that in this country, but Connie was from the old school. He would proudly tell you this is what he did. ... He never let himself be looked down on by anyone.”
He never lost his will to work, either. His daughter, Joan Corbett, of Egg Harbor Township, was also a Caesars colleague. She said that some days when she visited her parents, Connie would see her and announce, “‘I have to go to work. Where’s my job today?’”
Even the day before he died, he told nurses — from his wheelchair — he had to work. His older daughter, Gloria Gross, also of Egg Harbor Township, added that on visits, she would hear from Meadowview staff that “your father is up in our office, looking for his paycheck.”
After 59 years in one job, work is a hard habit to break.
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