Judy DaVanzo, fighting back tears, knew what her father, John, would have said had he been able to watch the John S. DaVanzo Wall of Honor dedication at Mineola Village Hall on Tuesday, Oct. 20. DaVanzo, a community mainstay and lifelong resident, died on March 21, 2014. He was 92.
“As dad would always say ‘God bless Mineola and God bless America,’” she said.
DaVanzo graduated from Mineola High School in 1939 and was all-varsity in football, basketball, baseball and track. He married his high school sweetheart Pauline and attended Hofstra University, but left early because he was drafted to fight in World War II.
He served as a radioman on the USS Glennon DD-620. He served in the Navy from Sept. 21, 1943 to Jan. 7, 1946.
“We know he’s looking down [from heaven] and would say ‘although unnecessary, this is the greatest honor to be bestowed upon [me],’” John’s daughter, Mary said.
Soon after DaVanzo’s passing, Mineola community leaders were brainstorming ideas that encompassed honoring the former North Hempstead town councilman and Mineola Village deputy mayor. The wall quickly materialized during an informal meeting between Mayor Scott Strauss and Mineola Chamber of Commerce reps. Strauss called DaVanzo a “true friend” and discussed his first years as a Mineola volunteer firefighter, a time where DaVanzo always offered encouraging words from his 34 years in the fire department.
“We were all deeply affected by the passing of John DaVanzo,” Strauss said. “John and his family were friends of my family. His daughter-in-law and my mother were great friends. And John’s granddaughter was a friend of my sister’s growing up.”
Through private donations and the Mineola Chamber of Commerce working with Strauss, the wall will sit in Village Hall on Washington Avenue.
“What really makes this village special is its people,” Mineola Chamber President Tony Lubrano said. “Individuals that always gave themselves to the greater good. Those who stepped up rather than wait for someone else.”
DaVanzo stepped up during wartime. He was out several days at sea when he was struck with severe pains in his stomach. He would have his appendix removed a day later.
DaVanzo was aboard the USS Glennon when it struck a mine off the coast of Normandy two days after D-Day. The ship sank on June 9, 1944.
“I had to destroy all information and codes before I evacuated,” he said, after being honored as a Hometown Hero by the Town of North Hempstead July 2011.
DaVanzo served as captain for the Mineola Fire Department from 1953-55. He would later become a delegate to the Firemen Association of the State of New York, southern New York and the Nassau County Fireman’s Association.
DaVanzo served as a village trustee from 1955-65 and 2005-07, deputy mayor for five years from 1955-60, town councilman from 1965-74 and town clerk from 1974-91.
“There are singular individuals in this world that personify and embody a community,” Senator Jack Martins, who served as Mineola mayor with DaVanzo on the village board, said. “John was truly Mr. Mineola.”
DaVanzo’s heart and soul thrived in Mineola. It resonated from his Cleveland Avenue home that he was born in.
“He and the village grew up together,” Martins said. “As John said on his 90th birthday, ‘I was blessed with a great family, a long and great life, and had a great place to live.’ That says it all when it came to John DaVanzo.”
The First On The Wall
The search for the first person to adorn the wall of honor didn’t take long. The committee quickly chose Lou Sanders, founder of the Mineola American and one of the founders of the Mineola Chamber of Commerce.
“I read a book once about Babe Ruth and the last sentence said ‘never another like him. You can say that about John DaVanzo too,’” Sanders said. “It’s a great honor.”
Past chamber president and Willis Hobbies owner Steve Ford first met Sanders in 1973 when Ford’s dad moved Willis Hobbies from Williston Park to Mineola. It was there Ford encountered the then-editor Sanders.
Then just a teenager, Sanders encouraged Ford to attend chamber meetings with his dad.
“Lou helped bring the Mineola Chamber of Commerce to the organization that it is today,” Ford said. “He got my dad involved in the chamber.”
Ford grew fond of Sanders over the years, mentioning Friday afternoon lunches at the Jericho Diner.
“Jerry Melman, Lou and John Linder would get together every Friday, have lunch and try to solve the world’s problems in an hour and a half,” Ford said.
Sanders founded the Mineola American in 1952 after attaining his journalism degree from NYU. He also served on the Mineola Village Pool Board for 45 years.
For Sanders, family comes first, specifically his wife, Grace, who’s been by his side.
“With the limited success I’ve had in this world, there’s always been my wife Grace,” Sanders said.