John Nuzzi Sr.’s smile was seemingly the size of the Cheshire Cat’s. At the Benevolent and Protective Order of the Elks National Convention in St. Louis, the 61-year-old Freeporter was installed as district deputy grand exalted ruler for 2019-20. He will serve the Southeast District, which includes Elks lodges in Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, Hicksville, Massapequa, New Hyde Park and his home lodge, New York No. 1.
The No. 1 Lodge includes Baldwin, Franklin Square, Freeport, Hempstead and Lynbrook, where Nuzzi has served in the past as a lodge trustee and was honored as Elks Officer of the Year.
The Order of the Elks is an American fraternal order founded in 1868. There are about 480 members of the New York No. 1 Lodge, and roughly 800,000 members nationwide, Nuzzi said.
“It’s a great honor to hold this position,” he said. “I can’t wait to see what the future brings.”
District deputy grand exalted rulers are nominated by Elks members in their districts and selected based on their years of leadership and commitment to the community, according to Rick Gathen, grand lodge membership and marketing manager. Nuzzi had a proven record as he stepped into his new role, Gathen said.
“I’m so proud of John,” said Michael Gleason, a past district deputy grand exalted rule upstate. “He is 100 percent in everything he gets involved in. A very dedicated Elk and equally important to New York No. 1 Elks.”
Nuzzi has been an Elk for the last 32 years. During his time with the lodge, he has held more than 30 titles, been on many committees and taken part in a variety of programs and service projects. When he wasn’t at the lodge, he managed his own business, which he started in the basement of his home: Royal Laundry Machine Services Inc., which sells and services commercial laundry equipment.
He has also volunteered with the Freeport Salvation Army, serving as chairman of its advisory board for seven years. He was a Lions Club member for 11 years, and is a past president of the Freeport Chamber of Commerce.
Before becoming an Elk, the Queens native served in the U.S. Navy for six years during the Vietnam era. After coming home in 1976, he started working as a stationary engineer for Nassau County. He also married Patricia “Pat” Recenello and moved to East Meadow.
The couple eventually moved to St. Marks Avenue in Freeport over 30 years ago, and raised two sons, John Jr., now 38, and Anthony, 36. These days Nuzzi also juggles being a grandfather to his six grandchildren — Gabriella, 11, Nicholas, 10, Arianna, 9, Dominic, 5, Dominic, 3, and Gianna, 8 months.
The Nuzzis lost their home in Hurricane Sandy and moved to Baldwin Harbor, but continue to work in Freeport at their business, and to volunteer in the community.
According to Pat, her husband has always found a way to be involved, while putting his family first. “There were a couple of times I had to remind him, ‘Family first,’” Pat explained. “But he always found the time.”
A beaming Pat said she was “extremely proud” of her husband’s accomplishments. He has been passionate about the Elks since he was invited to join in the mid-1980s.
“I stand alongside him through all of this,” Pat said. “I know he’s the best man for this job. There are a lot of bigger and better things to come for John.”
As an Elk, Nuzzi said he uses his position to help the community, especially in Freeport and Baldwin. The Elks are known for their generous academic scholarships and their support of military veterans. Traditionally, the lodge also recognizes Boy and Girl Scouts in the community for their service projects and merit badges. Lodges also recognize police and fire departments.
But that’s just scratching the surface, Nuzzi said. Being an Elk also means being a patriot and upholding the lodge’s principles of charity, justice, brotherly love and belief in God.
“We do for all,” Nuzzi said. “I encourage everyone to see what the Elks offer.”