HAWTHORNE, NJ - On Monday, Kenneth Silvestri, 86 years-old, was honored with a plaque and an award before a crowd of family and friends at Fire Company #3 in recognition of his sixty-five years of outstanding service. The ceremony opened with a prayer and Fire Chief Joseph Speranza spoke to the gathered audience on Silvestri's dedication and service, presenting him with an award of a fire fighter bust bearing a plaque saluting his service with the department from 1952-2017.
Silvestri was born at home on 8th Street in Hawthorne and his father was a fire fighter. Always dedicated to serving his community, Silvestri followed in his father's footsteps and became a volunteer fire fighter in his early twenties, remaining on the roster to this day. Silvestri is married to Dot Drennan Silvestri, also from Hawthorne, and they have three daughters, Jeri Kavanagh, Joni Huston, and Ellen Schroter. The family has long been an integral part of the Hawthorne Ladies Fire Auxiliary which serves to support the Fire Department, an all-volunteer organization, with material as well as financial support to meet the needs and comforts of the fire fighters.
Mayor Richard Goldberg presented a bronze plaque in Silvestri's honor, prominently displayed on the fire house exterior near the garage bay.
Fire Department officers had glowing praise for the venerable veteran of Hawthorne's Thin Red Line.
"There is no better model, no more wonderful man than Kenny," said Hawthorne Fire Chief Joseph Speranza. "Sixty-five years as a volunteer fire fighter. If my young bucks want to understand what it is to be a volunteer fire fighter, they should talk to Kenny. He and his wife are the examples of what it is all about. They are the foundation that makes things happen. Kenny is proof that it exists. Phenomenal. It brings tears to my eyes, that kind of compassionate service to the community."
Assistant Chief Joseph Longo of Fire Company 3 was also deeply moved at the ceremony. "It was an emotional experience. Kenny's a man's man, great guy, been in the department sixty-five years, an amazing man. He has a lot of accomplishments and served in every position. He has a great family, their support is unbelievable. Kenny never has a bad word, he's a great leader, mentor, father figure."
Joni Huston said she recalls her father leaving the dinner table to rush out to respond to fire calls when she was a child. "A lot of people don't realize the amount of sacrifice fire fighters go through. He has always been about community service, taking care of the community. He inspired me to community service as well."
Longo echoed Speranza's sentiments that any new fire fighter would do well to talk to Silvestri. "I came in not knowing anything. He sets the tone, a devoted family man, it was a very emotional night." Longo said they kept the ceremony a secret, wanting to surprise Silvestri who he described as a humble man who did not seek out the spotlight. "Everything with him comes from the heart."
In the decades that have marked Silvestri's service in the fire department, he was witness to a number of changes in how fires are battled and the equipment on hand for fire fighters. "A lot has changed over the years. He was one of the real 'smoke eaters'," Longo said. "Back then, they didn't have air bottles, they used rubber gloves, rubber coats, plastic helmets. It's crazy. He's still on the roster today and still finds ways to help. I wish there were more like him, he's been a trustee, held every office, very welcoming to new guys. We want them to learn that way. His heart and soul and everything are in the fire department. We are blessed to have him."
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