Nuncio Cali, 83, of Andalusia, a longtime Philadelphia teacher who in retirement portrayed Benjamin Franklin to the delight of visitors at the Franklin Institute, died Saturday, Nov. 12, of heart failure at home.
Mr. Cali was known to friends as "Benzio," a nickname that combined his love for his Italian heritage with his interest in Franklin.
From 1956 to 1993, Mr. Cali taught biology, physical sciences, and physics at Jules E. Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical School. He also coached the Mastbaum majorettes, cheerleaders, color guard, and flag teams.
"Being Benzio, he combined his love of science and his love of entertaining people with costumes, hats, props or puzzles," his goddaughter Katie Frayne said.
After his retirement in 1993, he found he missed being around children, so he approached the Franklin Institute to see if he could help, he told a writer for the institute's 2015 annual report.
"I put on an old jacket and hat one day, and people started asking if they could take their picture with me. A couple of years later, I bought an old costume on sale from 1776, the Musical, and I became a full-time Ben," Mr. Cali said in the report.
The most common question he fielded was, "Are you real?" "I'm a real person," he would say, without departing from Franklin's character.
Every Thursday for 20 years, Mr. Cali, dressed as Franklin, answered visitors' questions about the founding father's life, and entertained them with brainteasers, puzzles, and stories. Due to deteriorating health, he last appeared there as Franklin in March.
"It was a privilege working with Benzio, and an honor calling him friend," said Jamie Collier, director of volunteers at the Franklin Institute. "He delighted in sharing the wonders of science and the gift of laughter with countless visitors. . . . Benzio will be greatly missed by the Philadelphia community and the entire Franklin Institute family as well."
Born in Philadelphia, Mr. Cali grew up in St. Mary of the Eternal Parish near the former Shibe Park. As a youth, he played the clarinet for the Eagles band.
Mr. Cali graduated from Northeast High School, then earned a bachelor's degree from what is now La Salle University and a master's degree from what is now Arcadia University, both in education.
He married Violet Minissale in 1960. The couple spent their lives in Philadelphia until moving last year to Andalusia.
Mr. Cali was the life of whatever social gathering he attended. "If you invited Nuncio over for a Christmas party, he would arrive with a lighted singing hat or flashing glasses," Frayne said.
While teaching, he had a knack for fixing up a student without a prom date with another such unattached student, "and then they'd end up married for 40-plus years," his goddaughter said.
In addition to his wife of 56 years, he is survived by a sister, Nina Cali; nieces and nephews; and six other godchildren.
A viewing will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 17, at Burns Funeral Home, 9708 Frankford Ave., and again at 10:15 a.m. Friday, Nov. 18, at St. Katherine of Siena Church, 9700 Frankford Ave. A Funeral Mass will follow at 11:30 a.m. Friday in the church. Interment is in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery.
Donations may be made to Holy Redeemer Health Home Care, 12265 Townsend Rd., Suite 400, Philadelphia 19154, or via www.holyredeemer.com/Main/GivingHOME1.aspxcq/works.