By Judith Ryder
“Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.” Ecclesiastes 11:1
On February 25, 2015, Arnie Buono, age 59, former proprietor of Buono’s Bakery, passed quietly into glory following a three year illness. As his wife, Janice, opened up about her late husband of nearly 25 years, his memory sprang to life, even for one who had never met him. Until nearly the end, he’d made a supreme effort daily to come into work from his home in Exeter, if only to sit around welcoming and joking with his customers, who had become his friends since he bought the business in 1989. Previous owners for over 60 years, the Monda family had retired two years before, but provided start-up help to the Buonos. Buono’s Bakery, at 559 Hartford Avenue, Providence, RI, has an enviable customer list, its three large trucks delivering to most of the high-end restaurants in Providence and throughout the state.
It was fascinating to sit at Arnie’s desk in the basement of the bakery. All around are clues about who he was — his passions, and what made him so beloved by family and friends. For instance, there is the sign proclaiming “I voted today.” And the bumper sticker reading “I don’t believe the liberal media.” And another sign: “Choose Life.” And the declaration “I Support Our Overseas Troops”. Janice indicated a little framed gift from his daughter: “Thank you God for blessing me much more than I deserve.” And there’s the small rock upon which Sheila, the Manager at the bakery for the past 17 years, had written in heavy black marker: “NO!!” This was a good-natured appeal to Arnie, known for being super generous to charities and anyone in need. In fact, Arnie was one of the first businessmen both to donate to “The Good News Today” and to allow his business to be a distribution point, now one of over 250. (Our Editor promptly turned that donation into an ad for Buono’s Bakery, thus repaying one good deed with another. The two Christian businessmen became friends and occasionally met for Christian fellowship early on Mondays when the bakery was closed for cleaning.)
A particularly revelatory item near Arnie’s desk is an essay entitled “Attitude”, by Charles Swindoll. It reads: “The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness, or skill. It will make or break a company…a church…a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past…we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.” In other words, what really matters is not what happens to us, but how we take it. Evidently, attitude was important to Arnie, too.
Arnie’s beloved mother Jean, who survives him, recalls that when Arnie was small, she had to tie him to the clothesline where he could run back and forth but not get away. As he grew into his teens, he and his friends did wacky things like streaking through a Burger King and Scarborough Beach, where on summer days they’d pitch a tent, cook macaroni on a gas stove, and hang out from morning ’til night. But that was then. As he matured and began finding his way in life, Arnie was drawn to employment in the food sector. At 18, the youngest owner of a Dunkin’ Donuts in Woonsocket, Arnie sold it and moved to CA, where he distributed food to oil rigs before heading back north to become a food distributor in MA, all before entering the bakery business in 1989.
Asked how they met, Janice explained that she and Arnie’s brother, Frank, worked together at the same job. Frank was engaged to Julia, a co-worker in Janice’s office. Janice and her boyfriend attended Frank’s and Julia’s wedding. The story has it that when Arnie saw her there he told Frank, “I’m going to marry her.” Four years later, in 1990, a year after Arnie bought the bakery, they were married in the Catholic church. For the next ten years they lived in Cranston, where they started their family of five children (sadly, Anna died in an accident when she was 15 months old). Throughout their marriage, Janice was a homemaker, at times home-schooling their children. Frankie, 24, is a mechanic at Tarbox Toyota; Anthony, 22, is in the Army; Maria, 20, is learning Physical Therapy at URI; and Giovanni, 18, has recently been brought in as part of the new Buono’s Bakery team: Janice, her brother, Jim, and Arnie’s brother, Frank. Arnie was very proud of all his children. Janice describes him as an example of how men should be. A great father, he’d take his kids out sledding and for ice cream, and treated the family to memorable vacations at places like North Conway and Niagara Falls, always splurging on the best accommodations for them and supplying extras to make everything lots of fun.
Janice says that she and Arnie, both brought up Catholic, began questioning their faith around the same time, Arnie a little bit earlier. Just before their marriage, a friend invited Janice to a “Carmen” concert at the Civic Center. At the subsequent altar call, Janice went forward and was instantly changed, finding herself actually loving and caring about other people for the first time in her life. She began watching Pat Robertson, and initially returned to the Catholic church. As a child, she had been a nominal Catholic, dutifully following the traditions, but gradually God led her away. Meanwhile, Arnie had been saved, and the couple began searching for further spiritual direction. Arnie started reading the Bible and encouraged Janice to read it, also. Noting discrepancies between what the Bible taught and what they had learned at church, Arnie left first. He spoke to Janice about leaving, too, although that didn’t happen until after their first three children were baptized.
About that time, some new neighbors who attended Apponaug Christian Church invited Janice to a program featuring their children reciting Bible verses learned at Apponaug Christian Academy. Janice’s heart was deeply touched; she and Arnie began visiting before eventually being led to worship there. Things were good for a while, but they went downhill quickly. The neighborhood around their duplex was deteriorating fast, so Arnie and Janice started praying and searching for a new house. After looking at three, two of which were unacceptable, Janice fell in love with the third, but Arnie wasn’t quite sold. Still, he agreed not to write it off. Janice kept the ad. They continued praying, Janice becoming steadily more disillusioned with living where they were, but trying to make the best of it.
One night, returning from a party in Richmond, a wooded area Janice appreciated for its quiet and privacy, she and the kids somehow got lost and ended up on the road of the very house that Janice had wanted to buy. She drove down the driveway for a good look, and all were overcome with the feeling they belonged there, but were discouraged to see no For Sale sign, fearing they had waited too long. However, Janice unearthed the ad and called anyway, leaving a message. Unbeknownst to her, the owners were also Christians, even of the same denomination! Before leaving for vacation, the owner’s wife believed she had felt God’s leading to take down the sign while they were away, because their house was already sold! ??? Her husband didn’t think that was a smart idea, but they agreed to trust God. When they returned, Janice’s inquiry was the only one on their answering machine. The owners responded to her call, the Buonos went back, loved both the house and its owners, and the sale went through. Later, the owners expressed special delight in having sold their beloved home, which they had built, to fellow Christians, and even attended their church for a while before moving to Texas. God had blessed both families, and given the Buonos a beautiful house and place to raise their children near a convenient school and lots of good new friends.
But prior to that, and during the winter of their discontent while living in Cranston, they went through an agonizing time when, after the pastor died, there was a split in their church. The Buonos ended up joining a group of about thirty who split off from Apponaug and left with Pastor John Gibson to start Heritage Christian Fellowship, on Warwick Neck Avenue in Warwick. After the split, Arnie stayed at Apponaug for a short while before coming to Heritage, where he joined Heritage’s board as Treasurer and taught Bible studies. Arnie’s brother Frank, also a believer, stayed at Apponaug before moving to Victory Assembly of God. (Because Heritage Christian Fellowship was deemed too small to accommodate all who would attend, Arnie’s funeral was held at Victory Assembly of God, which did a wonderful job.)
Arnie’s hobbies were sailing and flying airplanes (he was half-owner of one before buying the bakery), lifting weights, and bench-pressing. As a young man, he worked out a lot, later hiring a personal trainer to help him lose weight. An NRA member, he enjoyed target-shooting. Also an avid reader, Arnie was an enthusiastic fan of Rush Limbaugh, supporting him by buying his neckties and books. But what Janice emphasizes most about Arnie was his determination to love God with all his heart, and with all his soul, and with all his mind. To Arnie, that meant being a blessing to others. The eldest of three, he was a faithful son to his mother, always making sure she had whatever she wanted. And once, after having bought a lot of extremely expensive landscaping equipment for his yard, even building a barn to house it, he concluded that his kids weren’t going to keep up with the work after all, so rather than selling it, he gave it all away. When Palmieri’s, a nearby competitor, burned to the ground, Arnie felt devastated for them, and called immediately to offer whatever help they needed.
Many employees were used to being yelled at in former jobs, but Arnie was never mean, always joked with them, spoke out of love, and let them take stuff home. Most of the 15 current employees have worked there for many years, a couple having been saved due to Arnie’s witnessing. Arnie treated them like sons. In return, his employees also did a lot for him. At Arnie’s request, Thomas and his son even hand-shoveled snow into the bed of his pick-up truck in order to clear a place in front of Buono’s after all the snow storms last winter. Thomas shuttled away FIFTY loads of snow, making Buono’s the only business on the block with cleared sidewalks for its customers! Employees gladly ran errands, loaded his trucks, and went out of their way to help Arnie, especially when he was sick.
Once a month, Arnie donated Buono’s daily leftovers to the homeless. A couple of times a week, a farmer Arnie witnessed to exchanged fruits and veggies for bread for his pigs. Arnie was always good to his employees, even making their lunch every day with turkey, ham, and shrimp ordered from various distributors. Buono’s continues to donate to many neighborhood churches, Special Olympics, numerous soup kitchens, the Providence and Johnston Police and Fire Departments, American Red Cross, and many private charities. To the Providence Rescue Mission (PRM), Buono’s donated not only bread, but also cases of toiletries and food, including turkeys at Thanksgiving, after hearing they had been cut off by the RI Food Bank when it was discovered that the PRM prays with their guests before meals.
God has bountifully blessed Buono’s Bakery, where a copy of The Ten Commandments hangs on the wall near the door, salvation message cards are on the counter, and the customer is considered boss. Which just goes to prove the old adage, “you can’t out-give the Lord!”
Visit their website at www.buonosbakeryri.com. If you’re ever in the area, want to take a ride or need some amazing bread or baked goods, just stop by and say hello to the folks at Buono’s Bakery, 559 Hartford Avenue, Providence, R.I. You’ll be glad you did…and so will they.
“Every man according as he purposeth in his heart, so let him give; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loveth a cheerful giver.” II Corinthians 9:7