NEWARK, NJ – An Essex County Italian-American Heritage Month Celebration was held on Oct. 9, in the lobby of the Essex County Hall of Records, where Essex County Executive Joseph N. DiVincenzo Jr. recognized Patty Spango, the newly appointed Essex County Deputy Superintendent of Elections/Deputy Commissioner of Registration, and Dr. Frank A. Cocchiola, Jr., a retired educator and administrator who served as Interim Superintendent of the Essex County Vocational-Technical School District for the past two years, as “Stellas della Contea di Essex” (Stars of Essex County).
They were recognized for their commitment to improving the lives of all residents, their leadership, and dedication to public service.
In addition, a Special Recognition Award was presented to Toby Santoro, a 102-year-old Caldwell resident who competed in bocce and bowling competitions in the New Jersey Senior Olympics.
“Our celebration is an opportunity to recognize the contributions that Italian Americans have made to the history and culture of Essex County,” said DiVincenzo. “Today, we are honoring two proud Italian-Americans who have positively impacted our world. Essex County Deputy Superintendent of Elections/Deputy Commissioner of Registration Patty Spango and Former Essex County Vocational-Technical School District Interim Superintendent Dr. Frank A. Cocchiola, Jr. are both well-respected and accomplished professionals in their respective fields.”
“Italians have made New Jersey proud and have left an indisputable mark on the state and country,” said U.S. Senator Robert Menendez. “I am proud to join County Executive DiVincenzo to take time to honor three very distinguished people who have made significant contributions to our community.”
Patricia (Patty) Spango was sworn in as the Essex County Deputy Superintendent of Elections and Deputy Commissioner of Registration on September 4, 2015. Under Title 19 of the New Jersey Statues, the Deputy Superintendent of Elections and Deputy Commissioner of Registration assists the Superintendent of Elections in the performance of their duties.
Spango is a lifelong resident of West Orange, where she served as a councilwoman for two terms and as council president in 2010. Prior to being elected to the council, she served as a member of the West Orange Zoning Board from 2001 to 2008. Spango was elected to the Democratic County Committee of West Orange in 2006 and assumed leadership roles as chairwoman from 2010-2012 and as vice-chairwoman for three years. In addition, Spango owns and operates one of the oldest businesses in West Orange, Starlite Restaurant and Pizzeria. She is married to Michael F. Fabiano, Sr., and she has three children: James R., Ralph and Tricia Spango.
“As we reflect on our heritage, we are reminded of how difficult it was for Italian-Americans. Italians struggled, but we never gave up, and survived because of our pride, our families and our love of community where we lived,” Spango said. “I am honored to be recognized for my heritage. I am proud to be Italian.”
Cocchiola has devoted his professional life to teaching, inspiring and empowering students to utilize their full potential. Cocchiola began his career with the Wallington Public Schools as a math teacher at Wallington Jr./Sr. High School in 1968, where he stayed for 11 years. He served as principal of Wallington Elementary School from 1979-1981 and at Wallington Jr./Sr. High School from 1981-1990. Continuing to rise through the ranks, Cocchiola served as superintendent of Wallington Public Schools for 20 years, from 1990-2010. Following his retirement, he returned to lead South Plainfield Public School District as interim assistant superintendent from 2011-2012, Wallington School district in 2013 and Interim Superintendent for the Essex County Vocational Technical School District from 2014-2015.
Cocchiola is a product of the Nutley Public School system. He earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Math Education from Seton Hall University, a Master of Arts Degree in Educational Leadership from Montclair State University and a Doctorate Degree (Ed.D) in Educational Leadership from Fordham University.
“I want to thank the County Executive for recognizing me and my Italian heritage,” Cocchiola said. “When you choose to recognize me, you are also recognizing the influence that my grandfather and father have had on me.”
Toby Santoro was born in Foggia, Ascoli Satriano, Italy on Oct. 9, 1913, and came to America with his family when he was seven years old. At the age of 13, his father got him a summer job at a barbershop where he earned $.50 a week. In 1938, Santoro enrolled in Newark’s Wilfred Beauty School and became a consultant/stylist at the beauty salon in Franklin Simon & Co. in East Orange. His hairstyling career grew rapidly and, in 1941, he won first prize in the Irvington Suburban Guild Hairdressers Club competition for his specialty style called “The Grecian.”
“Mr. Toby” invented his own hairstyles and became one of only a few local stylists who were licensed to give special permanent waves. As a result of his participation in many hairdressing conventions, he was privileged to style hair for celebrities including Gloria Swanson, Jayne Mansfield and Martha Raye.
During World War II, he worked part-time as a supply clerk at General Electric in Newark, and continued his hair styling career at Franklin Simon for many years. Santoro then finally opened his own shop, Toby’s Coiffures, on Harrison Street in East Orange, which he operated for 19 years. Since then, he has worked in a number of salons and barbershops including Hair We Are in West Orange and Franco’s Barber Shop in Caldwell.
In addition to being an exceptional and sought-after hair stylist, he made his mark on the dance floor. As far back as the 1930’s, he was a regular patron at the Meadowbrook Ballroom in Cedar Grove and at the Roseland in New York City. To this day, Santoro continues to enjoy dancing wherever there is music and a dance floor, and he is a much sought-after partner at weddings and the senior gatherings a few times a year at the Hanover Manor.
Another activity that Santoro has enjoyed since his youth is bowling, and there were some years in the past when he played in three leagues in the same season. In an article of the Essex County Bowling Association newsletter, he was recognized for rolling a clean 627 series at age 93 and nicknamed “Toby the Terror” and “Rolling Thunder.”
In addition to bowling, Santoro plays golf, shuffleboard and bocce ball. And, for the past few years, he has been a participant in the New Jersey Senior Olympics in Woodbridge, and has won gold medals in bowling, bocce and miniature golf in the 90-100 age group.
“I am very honored to be recognized here today,” said Santoro. “I am very proud of my Italian culture and traditions. In my lifetime, I have realized my dreams and ambitions, and I will remember this honor for as long as I live.”
Father Luigi Zanotto from St. Lucy’s Church gave the invocation. Calvin Pearson from the Essex County Surrogate’s Office sung the National Anthem. Frank Gesumaria from Newark performed during the musical interlude.
The Essex County Italian Heritage Celebration is part of a yearlong series of programs initiated by DiVincenzo to raise awareness about and celebrate the diversity of Essex County.