Anthony Arunno, Teamsters Local 705 Retirees Club
In Memoriam: Anthony Arunno
Longtime Chicago Truck Driver, Harmonica Player, 1921-2012

The Retirees Club of Teamsters Local 705—one of the largest in the entire International Union—meets the third Wednesday of every month at Teamster City, 300 S. Ashland Avenue. After the Pledge of Allegiance, 73-year Teamster Anthony “Tony” Arunno used to begin each meeting with a rendition of “God Bless America.”

On the harmonica.

With a smirk, he’d regularly follow it with a short sample of “Speak Softly Love,” the theme from “The Godfather.”

“You gotta have a sense of imagination to do something like this,” Tony said, uncasing his oversized harp before one meeting last year.

By his own account, Tony was a “diehard union man,” and he lived and breathed Local 705 until the day he died, September 7, 2012. He was 91. Born January 17, 1921, he joined Teamsters Local 703 in 1939, at just 18 years old, and spent more than a decade hauling produce before transferring to Local 705 as a cartage truck driver. There he’d stay for the next 35 years. Tony retired in 1986 but kept showing up to Teamster City every month ever since.

When did you start playing the harmonica?
“I didn’t pick it up until 2001. But it’s easy. Look [Tony blows into the instrument]. You blow for a sharp, you draw for a flat. That’s all you need. Easy. I don’t know D Flat from a bushel of tomatoes.”

Do you play any other instruments?
“I used to fool around with the guitar. But I gave it up in 1996, around the time my wife died.”

So why the harmonica?
“We had a guy named Ziggy in our retirees’ club, and he played. But he died. I told Ziggy I always wanted to learn and he said I could join a small harmonica club he had. Now I’m the President of the Windy City Harmonica Club. We meet at the First Congregational Church in Elmhurst every Wednesday. Thirty or 40 people come out. It’s fun.

“I happen to have a good ear for playing music. How does a blind man learn to play the piano? Feel and touch. When I hear a song, I just pick the harmonica up. I like Al Jolson songs. I write down their names and a week later I can play them.”

Any favorites?
“‘Toot Toot Tootsie Goodbye.’ Look it up.”

What was Local 705 like in the early days?
“Well I started with trucking looking for part-time work. I worked with Western, Steve Dunn Cartage—a lot of different companies. There were so many truck companies back then that you could show up and they’d sign you up for a day’s work right there. Done.”

You must have liked that.
“I loved it. I would have worked for nothing.

“In 1944, after just six months with a new company, I was able to go out and buy a new car. I lived on Racine in Chicago in those days. There were no intersecting streets on Racine then. When I came back from filling up at the service station, there was nowhere to park. That’s how many cars there were even back then. You couldn’t find a spot in front of your own house. Everyone earned. Everyone had something to call their own.”

Any lessons for young Teamsters today?
“If you don’t go to school, you’ll always work like a jackass."

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