NORTH CALDWELL, NJ -- A visitation for former North Caldwell Mayor James "Jimmy" Matarazzo Sr. will take place on Wednesday, July 24 from 3 to 8 p.m. at Shook's Cedar Grove Funeral Home, located at 486 Pompton Avenue in Cedar Grove. Matarazzo, 73, died at home on Wednesday, July 17.
A lifelong resident of North Caldwell, Matarazzo was a member of the first graduating class of West Essex High School and earned his bachelor's degree from Villanova University.
He also served on the North Caldwell Borough Council from 1971 to 1987 before serving as mayor for four terms, through 2002. (Matarazzo's father, Constantino, was the borough's mayor from 1961-1970.)
In addition, Matarazzo volunteered with the North Caldwell Fire Department beginning in 1971 and was also a New Jersey State Exempt Firefighter. As a member of the Knights of Columbus and UNICO, Matarazzo has earned awards for his service to the community, including being named UNICO's Man of the Year in 1998.
He was also known to many as the owner of Matarazzo Farms, working the land and providing plants and produce to the community. He helped to establish the first New Jersey Farmer's Market with seven other local farmers in addition to serving as a board member of Cook Agriculture College of Rutgers University.
Matarazzo Farm in North Caldwell has been in existence since 1921, shortly after Matarazzo's father left his hometown and family in Avelino, Italy in 1908 to find a better life in the United States and to join his brothers, who had already settled in America.
In Avelino, which is near Naples, Constantino’s family grew grapes to make wine, but the family could never own their own land. The feudal system in Italy at the time ruled the economic system.
In an interview prior to his death, Matarazzo explained that his father, Constatino, had a goal to come to America and buy as much land as possible.
When Constantino arrived in America, he got a job working on the docks in Hoboken as a longshoreman, and it is here where he met his wife, Filomena Pascal. As Constantino believed in owning his own land, Filomena believed that to be successful, one needed to own his own business--two goals the family eventually achieved.
Matarazzo was one of 13 children, along with Lina, Rose, Fanny, Susie, Emily, Pauline, Carmine, Sam, Dominic, Joe, Constantino Jr. and John.
The Matarazzo family also bought property in Belvidere, where to this day the family grows grapes to make wine at the Four Sisters Winery.
Matarazzo kept the family farming tradition alive, and could frequently be seen at the stand on Mountain Avenue in North Caldwell and at farmers’ markets in Cedar Grove, Montclair and Ramsey.
During his tenure as mayor, which began 17 years after his father's tenure as mayor ended, Matarazzo had strong convictions about the kind of community he wanted North Caldwell to continue being.
“Both my father and I maintained North Caldwell as more than 90 percent residential," Matarazzo told TAPinto West Essex in a 2018 interview, one year before his passing. "Neither of us, as mayors, bought into industrial ratables. The increase in services you have to provide for an industrial base, offset any temporary gain in tax revenue. Essex Fells was like-minded.”
Matarazzo told TAPinto West Essex that he remembered the filming of "The Sopranos" near the farm. Noting that David Chase, creator of the HBO series, was a fellow West Essex High School alumnus, Matarazzo said some of the filming took place on the Matarazzo Farm, and that the film crew spent time on the property. Jimmy, Jr. also was in quite a few episodes, he ssid.
In his spare time, Matarazzo coached girls' softball and founded a men's softball team in North Caldwell.
Predeceased by his parents, Constantino "Joe" and Margaret Matarazzo, his sister, Dolores "Dolly" Paulison, and his faithful dog, Nugget. He is survived by his wife, Jeannie M. (nee Alliston) Matarazzo; devoted children, James R. Matarazzo Jr., Kim Matarazzo Conlon and her husband, Ed; and Coreen "Cory" Matarazzo-Blaine and her husband, Sheldon; grandchildren, Juliana, Gabriela, Gemma Rose and Sheldon Jr.; brother, Robert "Matty" Matarazzo, and his wife, Laura.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in his memory to Toni's Kitchen, c/o St. Luke's Episcopal Church, 73 S. Fullerton Ave., Montclair, NJ 07042, tk.slechurch.org, or Missionaries of Charity, 168 Sussex Ave., Newark, NJ 07103.
Funeral services will be private. Funeral home details can be found here.
Gail Bottone, who interviewed James Matarazzo Sr. at length in 2018, contributed to this report.