By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Joseph LoMenzo, an original tenant of Stuyvesant Town and a longtime officer at the 13th Precinct, died in Fort Myers, Florida this past Tuesday. His death came on the heels of celebrating a huge milestone for LoMenzo: his 100th birthday.
“He had this adrenaline and at all the parties, he was really energetic,” his oldest son Roger told Town & Village. “He really stuck it out.”
Just last month, Roger had accepted a plaque on his father’s behalf from officers at the 13th Precinct at the March Community Council meeting honoring this milestone. Of his father’s many years of service with the NYPD, most were spent at the 13th Precinct.
Having lived through the last century, and in New York for more than half of his life, LoMenzo had a unique perspective on the city from that time. When he was growing up in the Bronx, he watched Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth play ball in Yankee Stadium, witnessed the Hindenburg fly over the city prior to its explosion in New Jersey and spotted President Franklin Roosevelt in a casually sitting in a town car.
LoMenzo, who originally joined the NYPD while living in the Bronx, served in the military during World War II and when he was discharged from the army in 1946, he rejoined the NYPD at the 13th precinct. He had heard that Stuyvesant Town was being built so he put an application in for an apartment, to move closer to the neighborhood than the Bronx.
“The building at 300 First Avenue was one of the first completed so we moved in there,” said Roger, who still lives in Stuyvesant Town.
Roger, who spoke to T&V earlier this month after returning from LoMenzo’s birthday celebrations in Florida, put together a sizeable scrapbook of memorabilia and photos for the occasion but he said that he’s always surprised at how much his father remembered from his youth without prompting.
“My father’s mother died at age 97 of natural causes. She was mentally alert (until her death),” Roger said. “He (was) very sharp. He remembered everything. I can’t get over how he remembered everything.”
While his father held onto certain mementos from the war, such as a package of food stamps complete with the swastika that a prisoner had given him, one of the items Roger said he wishes his father had kept was those ballgame tickets when he saw baseball legends Ruth and Gehrig.
“Tickets were only 50 cents. Those would be a collector’s item now,” Roger said. “We always ask him, why didn’t you keep the ticket? And he would say, ‘how was I supposed to know how important it would be? It only cost 50 cents at the time.’”
Roger said that his father used to work in an Italian restaurant in the Bronx and would frequently serve Yankees players who came in.
“He would see (Yankees players) Bill Dickey and Phil Rizzuto, who left him a $1 tip,” he said. “He knew where Babe Ruth would go to this German restaurant. He knew these all-time names in baseball history.”
When LoMenzo was drafted in 1943, he continued to live in the Bronx with his family but did basic training in Fort Totten in Staten Island. Roger said that a number of the soldiers who did basic training with his father were sent overseas, but his father was stationed domestically because of his experience in the NYPD and he was made military police.
His job was to guard German prisoners who were caught trying to infiltrate the US. One of his responsibilities included supervising the prisoners on their way to prisons in the Midwest and he inevitably became acquainted with some of them throughout the long train rides, some of them even giving him gifts for his sons back at home. One such gift included a German luger that was fused together and inoperable that he gave to Roger.
“I kept it for a while but eventually I got rid of it when I was still a kid, thinking it was just junk,” Roger said of the pistol his father had given him. “I wish I still had it.”
After moving into Stuyvesant Town after the war and beginning work at the 13th Precinct, notable points in his service were reported in local newspapers, including the capture of a man who was attempting to escape while he was being brought to the Bellevue Psychiatric Ward in 1951, as well as rescuing a man from the East River who had attempted suicide in 1954. He retired from the NYPD in 1963.
Roger noted that his father remained active well into his 90s. After moving out of Stuyvesant Town in 1981, he eventually moved to Florida but family photos showed him row boating in the Poconos at age 90 and Roger said that he continued to swim up until last year.
Although Roger was understandably saddened by his father’s death, he said that he felt the moment was bittersweet in some ways.
“I look at his life and he had a great hundred years,” Roger said. “It was time for him to go. If it was going to happen, it was a good time for it to happen.”
There will be a small service for family on Friday in Fort Myers, Florida.