The piano took Richard Kayati around the world. As soon as he got out of the Air Force in 1955, he started signing up to play USO tours and entertain American troops overseas. He ended up traveling to 33 countries in nine years, usually playing the same circuit that Bob Hope famously worked — Kayati without so many TV cameras around, but often just a few days before or after Hope did his shtick.

The keyboard also introduced Kayati to his future wife, the former Marie DeCicco. Richard was in a band, the Sandsmen, whose drummer was Marie’s big brother, Lou. So Richard and Marie knew each other before he left for the service in 1951, then met again when Richard got home. But they didn’t get married until 1964 — after dating just a few months.

Richard wanted to finally stop all his traveling. And when he did, he mainly stuck close to home — which was in Cape May Court House since 1987.

He was 77 when he died last month — just a few months after he played his music for America’s defenders for the last time in October. For eight years before that, he had a contract at the U.S. Coast Guard’s Training Center Cape May, leading the recruits’ choir Saturday nights, then playing again Sundays at two religious services.

But between those eras as a piano pro, Richard made most of his music with hammers, saws and other carpenter’s tools. He had five brothers who were builders, and as a union carpenter for 26 years, Richard’s projects included seven Atlantic City casinos — plus he built his own house, almost single-handedly, says his daughter, Teri Kayati-Baines, of Southampton, Burlington County.

“He was also a plumber, electrician, mason and painter,” she adds. “Pretty much anything you could break, he could fix.”

He didn’t stop building or fixing when he retired as a carpenter at age 60, but he did get a new hobby. He took flying lessons and got his pilot’s license. He even bought a plane, a small Cessna, and gave rides to almost anybody who asked.

Plus he took on another building project, on a slightly smaller scale than a casino tower. He rebuilt a collection of damaged birdhouses at Union Cemetery in Dennis Township.

The oldest Kayati daughter, Kimberly, lived not far from the cemetery, and loved purple martins so much that she had a slew of houses for them around her property. She was just 38 when she died of lymphoma in 2004. She is buried in the cemetery, and her dad rebuilt all those purple martin houses on the grounds as a form of therapy.

When he finished building, he borrowed a friend’s bucket truck to put them up properly. And now, Richard’s birdhouses also watch over his grave. He’s buried in Union Cemetery too, next to his daughter.

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