There can be no other way to begin the celebration of our Dad's life but by saying "Here's to Joe."
Whenever our Dad was ready to take the first zookle (his word for "sip") of his cocktail, he would toast himself by saying "Here's to Joe." Well, this caught on and the rest of us started saying it and it became sort of the family mantra.
So here's to Joe for starting out his life in a Manhattan tenement in Hell's Kitchen in 1919 with 4 siblings, a Mom who just arrived from Italy and a Dad who bailed out on the family. His Mom wasn't able to provide for all of the children so our Dad and his two older brothers we're shipped off to a "home" sponsored by Catholic Charities in Rockland County, NY where they grew up; it was actually not too far from here. Once they reached their teens, they went back to New York City, now the Bronx, and attended high school.
In 1942 when he was 23 and our Mom was 20 they got married. We don't know much about their courting but they met in high school and were married in the exotic destination of Yonkers. Snookey and Joe were now an official couple.
Then came his military service. Our Dad joined the army in 1943 and was sent overseas in November of 1944. After a few days in England he sailed to France and spent the next 10 months walking and riding tanks across France and Germany fighting the Germans. During this time he was awarded a Bronze Star for taking out an enemy machine gun thus allowing his company to advance. He also participated in the Battle of the Bulge and the Battle of Rembling where he was wounded and was awarded the Purple Heart. He was also awarded the French Legion of Honor Medal by the French Government for helping to liberate France. So here's to Joe for helping to win World War 2.
Years later when he was in his 80s he spent many hours visiting disabled vets, sharing stories with them and trying to make them comfortable. It was then that we realized what his service meant to him and how much of an impact it had on his life. Here's to Joe for stepping up to help the vets.
When he was discharged from the service in 1944 he joined big brothers Al and Vic who were able to buy some property on Boston Post Road in the Bronx and started an auto wrecking business. Our Dad worked with them and then with their help started his own business, a shop that did automotive spring and suspension repairs and was called Bronx Auto Spring. Here's to Joe for becoming a successful business owner as a result of hard work, long hours and using his people skills to keep employees motivated and his customers happy! His business thrived through the 1950s and he began to pursue other things that came with success. He took up golf, started bird watching and started traveling. He also bought the first of 9 houses he would own in his lifetime (but not all at the same time). Around this time, whenever he was doing something he enjoyed he would say "I wonder what the poor people are doing."
Our extended family also grew during this time. Our Dad and Uncle Vic were very close and so we'd spend lots of time with Uncle Vic, Aunt Flo, cousins Vic, Mike and Phil at their house on Bogart Avenue in the Bronx or our house on Boxwood Road and then Maria Lane in Yonkers. We were also close to our cousins on our Mom's side; Mickey, Patti, Bruce, Neil and Nancy. Aunt Eleanor, Aunt Ronnie and our Mom made sure we got together often and our Dad enjoyed these gatherings because he relished talking politics with Uncle Ben and especially Uncle Tony who he always seemed to be able to get a rise out of (to say the least)!
One day in 1961 Dad decided he wanted to go to Las Vegas to try a crap game system he worked out with some of his card playing buddies so he packed up our 1959 Buick with our Mom, me and cousin Mickey and we spent 3 weeks driving to Nevada and back. At that time people didn't do those kind of things, especially a spring man from the Bronx but he had a wanderlust that he wanted to satisfy. We saw some spectacular sights along the way and whenever we did he'd say "Feast your eyes." One spectacular thing we didn't see was his winnings at the crap tables in Vegas! I think that trip opened his eyes to the joys of travel and he didn't stop for the rest of his life. Here's to Joe for taking himself to Alaska for his 90th birthday! He gave me the gift of travel and for that, I will always be grateful.
And then came Florida… In 1967 the Joe Zannetti family along with the Vic Zannetti family relocated to Plantation and Hollywood, Florida respectively. To say this came as a surprise would be a huge understatement. Somehow, perhaps after some Manhattans, Uncle Vic, Aunt Flo and our Mom and Dad decided it would be a really cool idea to sell their homes in the Bronx and Yonkers, sell Vic's Auto Wreckers and Bronx Auto Spring and move to Florida. My brother and sister and our cousin Phil were still growing up so they too became Floridians. I was commuting to college in New York City at the time so I became the only kid I knew whose parent's moved away when he went to college.
During the Florida years in Plantation, our Dad had a 9 to 5 job for the first time in his life. He worked as a welding supervisor at a shop that was building canal locks . Freed from the burden of owning and running a business he found time to go to the beach with the family, learn about horses so he could buy one for Barbara and watch Scott learn how to swim in the pool at the house.
When they moved up to Ocala and built house #5, he was the General Contractor, oversaw the construction details and even built the corral for Barbara's horse (with Barbara's help). He never thought he couldn't do it; he just did it. Keep in mind, after he sold his business, retired and moved South in the 70s and early 80s the economy changed a lot. He used to say in those days " I retired and moved South and the economy followed me." Here's to Joe for overcoming all that.
In 1976, the Florida Zannetti's had enough of Florida and decided to return to New York. Our Dad was 57 years old then but bought a building in the Bronx and started another spring shop from scratch! Through determination and hard work he made this one successful too. Atlas Auto Spring thrived; he got many of his old customers back when word got out that Joe was back in town. The family bought a home on Meyer Drive in Suffern (house # 6), Barbara and Scott tried to re-acclimate themselves to New York and Dad drove into the Bronx every day to run his business.
He always said he wanted to retire when he was 65 because that's what you're supposed to do so when he reached that age, he sold Atlas Auto Spring to his employees, the house on Meyer Drive and he and our Mom moved to Lakehurst, NJ where they bought house #7. Our Dad said this was his second favorite house (after the Plantation, Florida house) and we think that's because he sold it about 18 months after he bought it for a huge profit. Here's to Joe for flipping real estate before it was even a concept.
They then moved further south in New Jersey to Lakewood which in case you don't know, is just north of Miami! Leisure Village West was a retirement community and it turned out to be a good move for them because both Mom and Dad got involved in many activities. Dad became an even more avid golfer than he was before, joined the woodworking club and had time to pursue his many interests.
Unfortunately, in 1991 our Mom was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away. During her illness our Dad became advocate, moral supporter and chief medical adviser for her. I remember those days well. He was at the hospital every day, in the face of the doctors asking a lot of questions and making sure our Mom got the best of care. Here's to Joe for stepping up and helping our Mom deal with her illness; I will never forget the way he did this with such passion, grace and dedication; day after day.
So now alone, he continued to pursue his interests and played golf regularly at the Course in his retirement community. He would often tell me about his golf games. One day he told me he played behind a group of "old" people who were really slow and held him up. He was 86 when he told me the story so I couldn't imagine how old the group in front of him was! He never considered himself to be old and that's a lesson for us all.
One day on the golf course he met a woman who shared his passion for golf and as it turned out, travel as well. So he and Renee became companions. They went on cruises together, did weekends at the Rocking Horse Ranch with the Leisure Village travel club, went into the city to see shows and did a six week driving trip across the country to, as our Dad said to "see what's out there." He did however, bypass Las Vegas on this trip based on his last experience there. He and Renee also went to Myrtle Beach for a month each Winter to play golf and walk on the beach. Renee also joined him for his 90th birthday celebration in Alaska. They commemorated the day by having lunch at the Black Dog Saloon in Juno. Somehow, I think a lightning bolt would strike me if I didn't mention that! He really loved that place.
He called a person who didn't do the right thing a "chooch" and aggressive drivers were "cowboys." Here's to Joe for getting it right and staying classy.
At Thanksgiving dinner at our house in 2011 when he was 92 years old our Dad announced to the family that he was ready to move to assisted living. He was ready to give up his home in Lakewood and his car as well. Barbara, Scott, Dee and I jumped on that and spent the next few months getting him moved to his next home in Chestnut Ridge. He sold home # 9, moved to assisted living and proceeded to become the "mayor" of the Esplanade where he won nickels from old ladies in bingo, played cards, enjoyed music and went out to dinner every Friday night with a happy band of cohorts who toasted him by saying (please join me) "Here's to Joe."
In lieu of flowers Joe's family requests donations be sent to Joe Raso Hospice Residence, 11 Stokum Lane, New City, NY 10956, 845-634-4974 or visit https://donatenow.networkforgood.org/1442282