Late Joseph Azzolina Honored
A local state lawmaker, war hero, and business entrepreneur is getting remembered posthumously in Highlands with the renaming of Highlands Bridge.
The span crossing the Shrewsbury River will now be known as the Joseph Azzolina Memorial Bridge, named after the late Highlands resident who served his community, state, and country as the owner of several prominent local super market chains, through several terms as a Republican in the 13th District Assembly and State Senate, and as a Captain in the United States Navy.
Numerous legislators from all level of government gathered Wednesday along with family and friends of Captain Azzolina at the base of the bridge which now bears his moniker.
State Senator Jennifer Beck, who spearheaded the legislation to honor Azzolina by renaming the bridge, lead the podium of speakers that featured members from both sides of the aisle.
Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno, Congressman Frank Pallone, Senator Joseph Kyrillos, and Monmouth County Freeholder Director all spoke to share their memories.
Beck spoke of her time spent as Azzolina’s chief of staff, and recounted how Azzolina’s father who owned a grocery store during the depression never turned anyone down. Something that was passed down to the Captain.
“Joe never turned anyone away either. He said to me right before he passed ‘I want to do good for all’, and he truly did.”
Beck says as she was working with Azzolina on his autobiography prior to his death, she asked him if he had a statement to summarize his life’s work.
“He said to me in that straight forward way that only Joe can, ‘Every day, every week every month, every year, I dedicate my time to better the life of the state of New Jersey.’”
Senator Joe Kyrillos ran with Azzolina on several tickets in his career and noted the dedication of the large bridge going into Sandy Hook was fitting because it encapsulated the larger than life personality Azzolina personified.
It’s so incredibly fitting he aught to have some symbol for everything that he did big in his life. A big business man, an important legislator, an important military person, a great dad.”
Even Congressman Frank Pallone, who ran against Azzolina throughout his career, spoke very highly of him. Noting as the owner of the Circus Food Supermarkets, he took care of his employees.
“It was always a union shop because he believed in good salaries and good benefits for the people that worked for him, because after all, they had families too. And they had to do well and take advantage of opportunities in this American Dream.”
Beck noted the fact the bill to rename the bill passed unanimously from Democrats and Republicans, stating that Azzolina’s memorial is a bipartisan issue.
“You would have people he ran against, come and honor him because that didn’t matter because after the campaign was over there was a friendship and mutual respect.
Azzolina served in the General Assembly from 1992 to 2006 where he represented the then 13th Legislative District. He also served in the Assembly from 1986 to 1988 and from 1966 to 1972.
Azzolina served in the United States Naval Reserve from 1944 to 1986. As a reservist, he returned to active duty in 1983 for a tour of seven months – four of them off the coast of Lebanon – aboard the battleship USS New Jersey.
He received three Meritorious Service Medals and two Navy Secretary Commendation Medals in addition to other combat awards and honors.
Assemblyman Azzolina was chairman of the U.S.S. New Jersey Battleship Commission, and led the effort to acquire the retired ship and have it docked in New Jersey waters where it was then transformed into a floating museum
He died in 2010 at the age of 84 of pancreatic cancer.