Steve ‘Pop’ Cittadino, a Holmdel Legend, has a message – “Stick Together”.
You may have seen him volunteering at Roggy Stadium at home, or at a Holmdel away game anywhere. You may have seen him recently, or decades ago. For the love of sports and the encouragement and positive motivation for all children and the community itself, Steve ‘Pop’ Cittadino is here, there and everywhere.
Steven ‘Pop’ Cittadino was born 85 years ago this Memorial Day in his grandmother’s 1st floor apartment at 18 Richmond Avenue in Newark. An only child, he was the light of his parent’s lives. Growing up, Steve worked hard for everything he got. “I was a bad boy, I was a toughie” recalls the hard working Cittadino. He learned a little bit about being tough playing baseball in Newark. His team usually won and the losers had a bit of a hard time handling the loss. This led sometimes to interesting activity after the game when the losers tried to chase down the winners!
At 13 years of age, Pop tried out to play for the New York Yankees. This was one of his earliest childhood memories that stood out for him. He played for the American Legion League with a team that was sponsored by Palercio Funeral Home in Newark. "I played outfield because I was always fast". Pop stated. While he never played for the New York Yankees, he remembers the value of working hard to try his best. He has similar advice for all the young kids that he has dedicated his volunteer life to serving, “Work Hard”.
“You have to work hard for what you want today”, says Pop. “Don’t let anything be handed to you. You want to work for it and not have things handed to you because you will be a better person for it”.
Steve's dad and mom knew about hard work. His father Steve worked in the Newark breweries and his mother Henrietta worked at Bamberger's (now Macy's) as a security guard. His dad’s career ultimately brought the son into the business as well. Pop worked for Budweiser for 39 years, and finally retired. Many readers may remember the huge Anheuser Busch sign that brightly lit up the night sky for miles while rotating around. "I slept underneath that sign". Said Pop. "When I worked the midnight shift and the work was finished I would take my breaks there. I would get out my cardboard and my jacket and take naps underneath that sign,” he continued. “I would watch that sign go around and around and watch the planes go by". Little did local residents know that under that incredible flashing Anheuser Busch spinning sign during all those years, was none other than Pop, relaxing under the stars!
Family comes first for our sports volunteer Legend. “I worked 7 days a week providing for my family”. When he first moved to Holmdel in 1958, his house cost $13,500. "I needed $500 to put down for a mortgage and $25 for the dryer in the basement. It was here in Holmdel that he and his wife Josephine raised their four children. Their children's names are Linda (born in 1955), Gary (born in 1957, Diane (born in 1959) and Steven (born in 1960). Holmdel became their home. As a young father, Pop and others got involved with youth sports. They didn’t have a Booster Club back then, so they started one.
According to Pop: “When we first got our High School (they hadn’t had one) they said we needed a Booster Club. We never had a high school so we went to Raritan and Middletown to find out how to run it in around 1970's. There were three of us at first. It was Frank Csulak, and also Marvin Paul. Our first meeting place was across the street from what is now the Vonage site (used to be Prudential as well for years). They also didn’t have a concession stand back then, so they built one. It was around 1974-1976 and it was a small little building like a highway hotdog stand and we built it where it stands today. All the time and materials were donated. It cost about $5,000 to build. Scott Cannon’s dad (John) did all the electric. He was with the electric company at the time. Bruce Phillips (former Police Chief) was also a great help. So many great people built this town”. Pop recalled. Today, the shelves in the concession area that Pop built still remain. He dedicated many long hours on behalf of Holmdel families and particularly Holmdel children. He never went far from town, even on vacation. "My wife and I always went to Wildwood, we love it. It has beautiful long beaches a nice hotel where we would stay". His other trips were typically in the United States. His greatest trip, however, started back in grammar school. It was the journey of meeting, knowing and loving his eventual wife, Josephine.
They actually met when he was in eighth grade. “I was one year ahead of her and she was in junior high”, said Pop. “I missed her and wanted to spend time with her so I flunked all my classes on purpose so I could get held back so she could catch up with me and I could be in all her classes. Those days everyone was together all the time. We all hung out together and played ball in the street, we played kickball and handball and did so many things together in the neighborhoods. Everyone was very close and looked out for each other”. Then the Korean War came.
Pop joined the Marines in his third year at Westside High School in Newark (1951) after having worked for a little while. A lot of his friends did the same thing. He spent three years in the Marines and, during this stint, went to Korea for 15 months. After the war he went home. “We fought for the hills there. I was stationed along the 38th parallel. The North Koreans would fight to chase us off and then we would go and chase them off and take back the hill. We couldn't advance and they couldn't advance. We had trenches all across the 38th parallel. We stayed there the whole fifteen months, fighting back and forth. In the beginning they pushed for Seoul. We pushed them back,” said Pop. “Josephine sent me letters and cakes. I also remember my friends and I in Korea had a little puppy there called 'Skoshy'. In Korean that means small”. He enlisted as a Private and then became Private First Class and then Corporal and then Sergeant. Steve ‘Pop’ Cittadino protected and served his country with his M1 rifle, Carbine and a 45 pistol strapped to his leg in the trenches of Korea. “I was doing my duty against the enemy” with the First Marine Division Third Battalion. In 1953, they signed the Armistice Agreement. He still visits schools on Veteran’s Day to help educate young students about what it means to be a Veteran. “I served from August 8 1951 to August 8 1954. After the war I came back by ship to San Francisco and flew into Newark. I finished my career in Camp Lejeune. Josephine and I got married in August 21 of the same year. Josephine, who he met in grammar school, was waiting for her childhood sweetheart.
Life is not without its challenges, however, and his family was no exception. In the early 1990’s, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer with seven tumors. His doctors treated him as best they could but still shared with him that the odds were not good. Ultimately, against the odds, this Korean War Veteran was declared in remission. That was a full 23 years ago. Around the time he was in remission, tragedy struck. His wife Josephine, the love of his life, was diagnosed with cancer. She died soon after, in 1994, at the young age of 59. Mourning such significant loss weighed heavily on him. Then, as this new difficult chapter in his life journey began to be written, his family story changed yet again. His daughter and three children (Nicole, Christopher and Matt), who lived in Brick at the time, came to live with him in Holmdel. ‘Pop’ is what his three grandchildren called him and, alas, the rest is history!
His grandchildren inspired him to get back involved in local sports and other activities. He began to volunteer more than ever before with Holmdel sports. At nearly any game, at any level, during every season, he was there for the kids. He would go on shopping trips to get food for the concessions, set up equipment or help motivate the teams. Unfortunately, in 2010, he faced a new challenge. It was a devastating fire at his house.
“I was getting ready for the Holmdel/Raritan Thanksgiving Game. I left the house at 1:20PM. At 1:50PM I got the call. They told me my house was on fire. Lenny Sasso and Andrew Kret (Holmdel Police Officers) lived down the street from me. They saw the smoke and heard the dogs barking. They did everything they could”. The Police, Fire Department and First Aid Squads were quickly on the scene but the house could not be saved and Pop lost his two boxers, Bear and Rusty. They also lost two Labradors, Bailey and Rusty that were Diane’s. “It was a sad thing, my life was shattered,” he said. “We lost everything. Shocking”. It was determined that a faulty light fixture caused the fire.
The community quickly rallied to support Pop and his family in every way shape and form. “People were there for me with clothing and financial support. It was incredible” A thankful Cittadino (“It could have been me”) was able to recover through his insurance carrier and the help of the wonderful Holmdel community who wanted to help a man who dedicated his life to the community.
“Everything that happened in my life changed my way of thinking,” says Cittadino. "Hold on to what you have. You may lose it the next day”.
Pop learned many lessons in life and he shares his philosophy with others in conversation. He has advice for the younger generation to whom he has dedicated so much of his life:
"Think for yourself don't follow other kids. Find out what's going on in the world. Find out what's going on your town. Don't be a sheep. In colleges now, too many are sheep. Instead, have your own mind and be a leader and think for yourself"
"Be together - you are all one family. Never get mad at each other. If you want to get mad, make up the next day or day later but never hold a grudge. You are all the same. You all have an opportunity to be something. Never be jealous of other people. Love one another”.
“Always stay positive, love people and get together and ‘be one’ we have to be one. We are all here for the same thing and the only way to survive and families to thrive, is to be with one another”.
He has a view that is keenly focused on the children and continues to be in the future. Says Pop, “I want to be the oldest living volunteer in the world” and he isn’t kidding. Based on the past, his future will be just as he states. Happy 85th Birthday and thank you for all that you do - Steve ‘Pop’ Cittadino!
You are a true Holmdel Legend!