He’s a war veteran, a lawyer, and a grandfather of 13 — and now he can add turning 90 to his list of achievements. Joseph Canzoneri, former mayor of Malverne, celebrated his birthday last week — and there’s quite a lot worth celebrating in the 90 years he’s lived.
His daughter, State Sen. Patricia Canzoneri-Fitzpatrick, put it best: “He’s been blessed with long years, but he’s made excellent use of them.”
Canzoneri’s parents emigrated from Sicily. They had very little money, so he delivered newspapers and worked for the local drugstore. Canzoneri also worked for his father, a shoemaker, who was one of the first merchants in Malverne. It was the kind of community, he said, where everyone knew each other.
“I’ve lived my entire life in Malverne,” Canzoneri said. “Malverne is a wonderful, wonderful community. There's a lot of affection between people.”
After graduating high school, Canzoneri enrolled in the U.S. Coast Guard Academy. He then served in active duty during the Korean War, following the footsteps of his father, who saw combat in World War I. During his time in the military, he embarked on multiple trips to both the Antarctic and the Arctic Circle as part of Operation Deep Freeze III.
When he returned home, Canzoneri continued his life of service — but not before marrying the girl next door, Judith Deller. The pair went on to have six children and 13 grandchildren, and they recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary. Canzoneri said the best thing about his life is his family.
“This is what I have always striven to have, is a close family with a lot of love and affection,” Canzoneri said. “From children, grandchildren and the friends and neighbors that we have.”
Canzoneri had always been an active member of the community. He’s been the chairman of the Malverne library board, a member of the parish council for Our Lady of Lourdes, and the president of the Chamber of Commerce, which was then known as the Malverne Merchants Association. He was appointed to the village board in 1980 — serving as fire commissioner, police commissioner, and head of the Department of Public Works — and served for 15 years before being elected mayor in 1995, making him the first mayor who was born in the village.
And on top of all that, Canzoneri fulfilled his dream of going to law school and becoming an attorney. He opened a practice where he and Patricia have served as partners since 2001.
“My dad has been a great example of what it's like to be a good person, serving your community,” Patricia said. “He has been an example to me as far as my role as an elected official — to always be honest and to serve with integrity, and do the best you can always, and work hard for the people you represent.”
One of his crowning achievements during his 18 years on the village board was being a founding member of the Malverne Ambulance Corps.
“A little girl had gotten hurt, and I think she had fallen down a set of stairs and laid waiting for an ambulance for a long time,” Patricia said. “And he, along with other members of the community, said ‘we need our own ambulance corps. We can't be waiting.’”
Co-founding the ambulance corps was an example of his philosophy: when you see a problem, fix it.
“Take a stand,” Canzoneri said. “If you see something that needs to be corrected, or that you're not pleased with, don't mope at home and do nothing. Get out there and let somebody know what your feelings are.”
To Canzoneri, service to your community is not something one ages out of. He still works four days a week and is the chairman of the village planning board. His active lifestyle, Patricia said, has been a contributing factor to his long life.
“A few years ago I had hoped to live to 90, and as I approached that age, I modified that,” Canzoneri said. “I think I’d like to live to 95.”
His advice to young people is simple: get involved. Whether that’s the chamber of commerce, the school board, a church, or any other organization. It’s important, he said, to be aware of what’s going on around you and how it affects you and your family and neighbors.
“We have a great community because there are so many people involved,” Canzoneri said. “Keep it vibrant, keep it interesting, and keep it progressive.”