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The Star-Ledger

Vincent Muniz, 68, Angel To Appalachia


August 26, 2003
Copyright ©2003 The Star-Ledger. All rights reserved.

About 10 years ago, a religious leader from Lexington, Ky., came to St. Mary's Church in Nutley to make an appeal for clothing and other goods for the destitute people of the Appalachians.

The call resonated with parishioner Vincent P. Muniz of Belleville. Employing his own considerable energy and inspiring others to follow, Mr. Muniz organized the Appalachian Charity Drive, which was soon sending an 18-wheeler filled with donated clothing across the mountains.

"My mom always said it was his calling to do this," said Mr. Muniz's daughter, Michelle Bain of Bernardsville.

Mr. Muniz, who helped clothe strangers in a state far from his own, died Saturday in the Department of Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care Center in East Orange. He was 68.

A veteran of both the Army and the Navy, Mr. Muniz had been in declining health, with heart and other problems, for more than a decade. He had been on dialysis for the last three years, and had suffered a stroke several hours before he died in his sleep, his daughter said.

After hearing about the need for clothing, Mr. Muniz put his organizational skills into action. In no time, volunteers at both St. Mary's Church and its affiliated Knights of Columbus chapter in Nutley were pressed into service to collect, examine, sort and pack clothing.

The Muniz home telephone became the contact number for those seeking to donate, and boxes piled up at the church, the Knights of Columbus chapter and the Muniz home.

"There was so much clothing in our house, it was insane," Bain said.

Although the truck driver was paid, the services of the rig were donated, mostly because it was a return trip that would otherwise be empty, Bain said. Once the goods arrived in Lexington, members of a convent there distributed the clothing.

The Appalachian Charity Drive continued for five years, ending about three years ago when Mr. Muniz became too sick to do the organizational work needed, said Joseph French of Nutley, the Grand Knight of the 350-member Knights of Columbus chapter.

Mr. Muniz was the chapter's Grand Knight during the final two years of the charity's operation.

"They were in need and he wanted to help," French said. "He was not a man of means on his own, so he knew when somebody needed help."

"My parents didn't have much," Bain said. "My father would have 20 dollars in his wallet, and he'd hear somebody's house burned down, and he'd give him the 20 dollars. He'd worry about the bills later."

Born in Isabela, Puerto Rico, Mr. Muniz also had a passion, early on, to join the military. He enlisted in the Army at 16 - short of the required age of 18 - by forging his mother's signature, Bain said.

By the time the Army found out he was underage, Mr. Muniz had already served a year in Korea as part of the U.S. military action there. Still, the Army promptly discharged him, his daughter said.

But as soon as he turned 18, Mr. Muniz re-enlisted for military service, this time in the Navy. He served on a destroyer, from 1955 until 1961.

After his Navy service ended, Mr. Muniz moved to the Bronx, where he met his future wife, Hilda. The couple's first date was a movie, "Lawrence of Arabia," his wife recalled. They were married in 1964.

After they married, the couple moved back to Puerto Rico. They moved to Belleville in 1986.

Mr. Muniz was employed as a salesman in Puerto Rico. When he and his wife moved to New Jersey, he went to work as a chemical mixer at a bleach-producing company in Jersey City. He retired after about two years because of declining health.

Despite numerous health concerns, Mr. Muniz never lost his sense of humor, his daughter said.

"He could befriend everybody," she said. "He loved to talk and be funny. He even loved to show his scars to everybody."

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Muniz is survived by another daughter, Melissa Muniz of Belleville; two sons, Daniel of Nutley and Michael of Belleville; and two grandchildren, Tyler and Kylene Bain, both of Bernardsville.

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