Dominick Mele is negotiating with God.
The longtime Schenectady pediatrician is grateful his 100th birthday will arrive on Wednesday. But he wants more time — Mele has requested two more years with family and friends.
God must be thinking about it. “He hasn’t answered me yet,” Mele joked last week, during
an early birthday lunch with comrades from the medical arts.
Several birthday parties are on the doctor’s call list in coming weeks. The big one will take place Tuesday, as members of the Medical Society of the County of Schenectady salute their friend at the Mohawk Golf Club. Doc Spring’s Dixieland Band — Dr. John Spring’s outfit — will perform with Dr. John Angerosa on piano.
Tickets to the party, at $35, are still available. People interested in attending should contact the Schenectady County Medical Society at 346-3300.
Part of Mele’s success as a doctor — he practiced until he was 86 — was hard work. He once estimated he had cared for more than 20,000 children during his career.
Another reason for success was a great partner.
“I had a wonderful woman for a wife,” said Mele, looking sharp at the Waters Edge Lighthouse in a light tan suit, burgundy vest, purple pattern tie and a white shirt.
Elma Cerise Mele, an Army pharmacist he met during his own Army service in the early 1940s, always understood late nights.
“No matter what time I came home, 2 o’clock in the morning or 8 o’clock at night,” Mele said. “One night I called her at midnight and said ‘I still have four more house calls, shall I come home for something?’ I hadn’t had supper yet. She said, ‘Take care of your house calls, when you come home we’ll have a nice candlelight dinner, nice and warm, we’ll be fine.’ ”
Mele became a permanent resident of Schenectady County in 1931, when he moved to the city from his native Sora, Italy. The oldest of eight children, he graduated from Mont Pleasant High School in 1933.
Education was important in the Mele family; all four of the boys graduated from Union College. Peter and Fernando became prominent Schenectady dentists and Frank became a successful electrical engineer in New York City. Two sisters, Theresa and Helen, became teachers.
Mele graduated from Union in 1937. He and Elma married on May 18, 1944. After the war years, the couple moved to Chicago, and worked in their respective fields.
At the time, Dominick was not earning a big salary. He supplemented his income by selling blood during hospital blood drives.
Moving back to Schenectady during the spring of 1948, Mele opened his pediatric practice in a small office in the city’s Bellevue section, behind McClain’s drug store.
The practice moved to Campbell Avenue around 1960; by that time, children Ann, Paul and John were members of the family. The Meles later moved to Scotia.
Mele was chief of pediatrics at St. Clare’s Hospital in 1975 and 1976 and chief of newborn services at Bellevue Maternity Hospital from 1974 through 1987. Back then, bedside vigils for sick children could last several evening hours. Kids with tonsillitis could be hospitalized for two weeks.
Sometimes, people didn’t have the money to settle their medical bills. So they paid with gifts of food. Mele remembers puppies were once offered for payment.
“Dominick was like the General Electric Company,” said friend and medical colleague Dr. Richard Gullott, a pulmonary doctor. “There wasn’t one family he didn’t touch in the Schenectady area.”
Mele’s advice: Doctors need more humility, and Mother Nature and patience are wonderful allies. Doctors, Mele believes, should not be too quick to prescribe drugs.
“What advice!” Doc Spring said. “Can’t find that written in a textbook; that’s experience.”
Mele said he kept learning over the years. Antibiotics and computers became great advances. Sometimes, new information was more about people than pediatrics.
“I learned how to handle the mothers and the grandmothers,” Mele said. “If the grandmothers were on my side, I’d be happy.”
Elma died in 2002, after nearly 60 years of marriage. Mele has lived at Coburg Village in Rexford since 2001, where family members say he is the unofficial mayor. He plays the piano, walks and is glad to give other residents tips for healthy living — a routine he hopes to continue through 2016.