Former Times Lounge owner Sam Salamone dies at 79

Fewer than five months after closing his downtown mainstay the Times Lounge, Sam Salamone passed away Aug. 19 after a short illness, according to an obituary in the local daily. He was 79.

Born April 25, 1927, to Charles and Angelina Maggio Salamone, Sam was a graduate of St. Thomas High School, veteran of the U.S. Navy and member of the Lombardi Club. He married Judith (Judy) Oellig May 13, 1989.

Sam had owned and operated the Times Lounge on Jefferson Street for 58 years, and the business had been in his family since his father bought the bar in 1948 from Bill and Jay Fiorenza.

The Times Lounge was originally in the Times Theater building, but moved to its final location at 327 W. Jefferson St. (the former Jacks or Better Supper Club) in 1988 when the Times Theater building was sold.

Sam co-owned the Times with his brothers Carl and Buddy until Carl left in 1958 to start his own bar, and Buddy semi-retired in 1985 to move to Chandler, Ariz., and then to the Branson, Mo., area. Sam was predeceased by his parents and both brothers.

In the beginning, the Times Lounge was a piano bar that featured local legends The Val Eddy Duo, Lee Pizzuto and Laverne Ott. In 1962, the entertainment changed, and go-go dancers became the main attraction. The owners then established more of a lunch and lounge atmosphere in 1968.

To the regulars, the Times Lounge will be remembered for its unique personality and its legendary Halloween parties. During a March 16 interview, shortly before the Times Lounge’s March 24-25 “Grand Closing Party,” Sam reminisced about some of the regulars.

“I’ve had some beauties,” Sam said. “I guess there were about 10 or 12 of us that used to hang around together. They were all guys that worked here or I played golf with; go to football games with down at Illinois. There was a bunch of them. They were all good, nice guys. A lot of fun. Every day, every night, they’d be here. My whole four guys I used to play golf with all passed away. Nobody wants to play golf with me anymore. I’ve played for 67 years, and I’m getting worse.”

Sam, his wife Judy and Judy’s son Ricke Neuschwander tended bar right up until the last night of operation. Sam met Judy, his wife of 17 years, at the Times Lounge while she worked at Colorcraft.

Sam—who stood about 5-foot-8, had dark gray hair and mustache and wire-rimmed glasses and often greeted patrons with “Gentlemen!” or “Ladies!”—could often be found holding court at the end of the old, dark, glossy wooden bar, talking politics, sports (especially golf) or about anything that piqued his interest. In later years, Sam often talked about downtown Rockford—what it used to be, how it had changed and what it could be again.

“There was a lot of people down here working,” Sam said during the March 16 interview. “But now I don’t know where they go. They said there’s no parking down here during the day, and at 5 o’clock you can shoot a cannon through downtown, and you wouldn’t hit anybody. At quarter to 5 when I was across the street, the place would be packed. And you wouldn’t believe it. The people at the Pioneer used to come over here. There were a lot of people down here then, right around this area.”

“Sam was an institution in the River District and our common-sense critic,” said The Rock River Times Editor & Publisher Frank Schier. “I’ll miss that sensibility, usually dispensed with a keen dose of wit. Both qualities are rather dim around here nowadays, as are the streetlights, which you used to complain about. I am sure I speak for many people to say—Sam, you made me think, drink and laugh all at the same time. May God bless you for your wry sense of humor, for the good cheer and for actually caring with an unabashed passion. Even Paul Logli paid attention to your ‘wisecracks’.”

According to the obituary in the local daily: “Survivors include his wife, Judy; children, Chris (Judy) Salamone of Cherry Valley; Michael (Roseann) Salamone of Pecatonica, Marci (Jim) Englund of Lansdale, Pa., Ron Neuschwander of Rockford, Ricke (Krystyna) Neuschwander of Rockford and Nichol (Jim) Meneley of San Angelo, Texas; grandchildren, Lindsay, Kelly, Ashley, Daniel, Erica, Cole, Laura, Natalie, Taylor, Georgi, Daniell and Mackenzie; sister, Mary Margaret Juhlin; and numerous nieces and nephews.”

Visitation was Aug. 21-22 at Fitzgerald Funeral Home & Crematory, mass was Aug. 22 at St. Anthony Catholic Church and burial in Sunset Memorial Gardens. The obituary noted, “In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the family. Condolences may be sent to the family at

From the Aug. 23-29, 2006, issue

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