Heartfelt journey: Memory Lane to Zunino Alley

Updated on Wednesday, Oct. 26, to add photo montage

When Kennett Square Borough’s former police chief began his law-enforcement career, gasoline cost 43 cents a gallon and the laser printer had just come into vogue.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino gets assistance from his wife, Lois Zunino, with unwrapping a street sign in his honor.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino gets assistance from his wife, Lois Zunino, with unwrapping a street sign in his honor.

A Kennett High graduate named Edward A. Zunino began his police career in his hometown in 1974, a stint that spanned more than four decades and earned him respect that extended far beyond the borders of the mushroom capital. After rising in the ranks – a process that included auxiliary officer, part-time officer, patrol officer, detective, lieutenant, and chief – Zunino retired this past July after 42 years of service.

On Saturday, Oct. 22, more than 230 people gathered at the Red Clay Room in Kennett Square for what was billed as a retirement celebration. The goal: to ensure that Zunino understood the tremendous impact his tenure had on all of Chester County.

Mayor Matt Fetick, who served as emcee, predicted that the evening might prove challenging for Zunino, given the former chief’s penchant for humility. And then the accolades began. Speaker after speaker recounted the numerous ways in which Zunino made a positive difference in myriad lives.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino chats with Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino chats with Kennett Square Mayor Matt Fetick.

More than 20 individuals regaled the crowd with stories about diverse interactions with Zunino – rich recitations replete with recurring themes: integrity, fairness, determination, patience, loyalty, and compassion. Many of the speakers came bearing gifts that ran the gamut: plaques, citations, pins, a statue, a painting, a flag, even a key to Kennett Square.

Fetick, who was joined by members of Kennett Square Borough Council for the key presentation, also explained another honor slated to occur in the near future. After Zunino unwrapped a street sign bearing his name, Fetick explained that the borough gets to name its new alleys, and the next one, probably in the Magnolia Place development, will bear Zunino’s moniker.

Retired Police Chief Edward A. Zunino is shown with his wife, Lois Zunino.

Retired Police Chief Edward A. Zunino is shown with his wife, Lois Zunino.

Chester County Judge Patrick C. Carmody, a former prosecutor, recalled advice early in his career from one of his mentors, the late Deputy District Attorney John J. Crane: keep an eye on Zunino. “Watch this police officer; watch the way he carries himself,” Carmody was told.

Carmody said the scrutiny, which would last for three decades, provided invaluable insight. “I was always amazed if you watched an interview with Ed and someone, you didn’t know if they were a defendant, a victim, or a witness because he treated everyone with dignity and respect,” Carmody said.

Many of the speakers represented law enforcement – from FOP officials to fellow police leaders, including New Garden Township Police Chief Gerald R. Simpson, Kennett Square Police Lt. William Holdsworth, and Kennett Township Police Chief Lydell E. Nolt. They all applauded Zunino’s contributions to community policing, which he perfected long before it became popular in the 1990s.

State Reps. Steve Barrar (from left) and John Lawrence present former Chief Edward A. Zunino with a citation from lawmakers.

State Reps. Steve Barrar (from left) and John Lawrence present former Chief Edward A. Zunino with a citation from lawmakers.

Nolt suggested that for anyone who wants to epitomize the concept, “you’re going to have a career like Chief Ed Zunino.”

Sgt. Eric Ruggeri from the West Chester Police Department offered an example of how that philosophy worked. He said shortly after he was hired by Kennett Square Borough in early 1988, he got his “first hot call:” shoplifting at the Landhope. He said his adrenalin rushed as he and Zunino proceeded to the store, where they learned that a 99-cent candy bar had been stolen. Zunino said: “I think I know who did this.”

Ruggeri said they drove to a residence where Zunino confronted the suspect: “You know why we’re here, right?” Ruggeri said the suspect confessed on the spot, and Zunino proceeded to explain that he would get a break if he vowed to avoid such behavior in the future because the storeowner had graciously agreed not to press charges.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino (left) is shown with West Chester University Police Sgt. Eric Ruggeri.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino (left) is shown with West Chester University Police Sgt. Eric Ruggeri.

Back in the patrol car, Ruggeri said he was awed by what he had witnessed and then Zunino pulled a Snickers out of his pocket and began to snack on it, telling Ruggeri that he owed him 99 cents. A puzzled Ruggeri got an explanation when Zunino said: “You need to pick and choose your battles.” As for the candy, Zunino added, “I had to pay for it.”

Theresa Bass, president of the Joseph & Sarah Carter Community Development Corporation, formerly known as the Historic East Linden Project, said that philosophy proved invaluable when she enlisted Zunino’s aid to reclaim a diverse, low-income, drug-infested neighborhood more than a decade ago. The vibrant, cohesive community has since become a model of transformation.

Joined by his daughter Penny DiOttavio, longtime Kennett Square resident Tony DiOttavio (center), who went to grade school with the former police chief, chats with former magisterial district judge Daniel Maisano.

Joined by his wife, Penny DiOttavio (from left), longtime Kennett Square resident Tony DiOttavio, who went to grade school and high school with the former police chief, chats with former magisterial district judge Daniel Maisano.

“He doesn’t just lock people up,” Bass said. She explained that especially with youthful offenders, Zunino would spend time talking to them not only to determine the cause of the problem but also to find productive things for them to do. “We love Ed on East Linden Street,” said Bass, adding that he now serves on the CDC’s board.

Borough resident Penny DiOttavio has known the former chief for years. Her husband, Tony DiOttavio, recalled attending both grade school and high school with Zunino. "He's like a diamond," Penny DiOttavio said. "You can't replicate him."

Chester County District Attorney Tom Hogan applauded Zunino’s far-reaching influence, particularly through officers’ training. Hogan said when vacancies occur in the Chester County Detectives, he routinely makes a phone call to tell a chief that he’s about to lose one of his best officers, news that is met with annoyance – unless Zunino is on the other end of the line.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino listens as speakers embark on journey down memory lane.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino listens as speakers embark on journey down memory lane.

Hogan said he has hired two Kennett Square officers as detectives, continuing a trend in his office. He recalled Zunino’s reaction: “He is a credit to our department, and it would be our honor for him to go to the Chester County Detectives.”

Darren R. Sedlak, a decorated detective with the West Goshen Township Police Department, said he began his career in the mid-1990s in Kennett Square, where he benefitted from Zunino’s expertise as a law-enforcement educator. Calling Zunino "a father figure," Sedlak acknowledged that the learning process often inspired dread when a handwritten, police report got returned full of Zunino’s signature, red editing lines, which marked omissions and mistakes.

Sedlak said Zunino would always refer Sedlak to the field-reporting manual, which he described as a pre-Internet Google for law enforcement. “The FRM was a guide, but Lieutenant Zunino was the professor,” Sedlak said. He added that Zunino’s constant wisdom and patience helped him strive to follow Zunino’s masterful example of making a positive difference.

Chester County Deputy Sheriff Gayle Sauers poses with former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino, a respected mentor.

Chester County Deputy Sheriff Gayle Litwiniec-Sauers poses with former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino, a respected mentor.

Chief County Detective Kevin Dykes credited Zunino with enabling him continue his law-enforcement career. Dykes explained that he had just begun working criminal investigations at the Avondale barracks of the state police in 1986 when he got a call to assist Kennett Square police.

Dykes said he showed up at Bove Jewelers, where police had just received information about a robbery. As Dykes walked in the door, the owner exclaimed, “There’s one of them now,” erroneously identifying Dykes as a suspect. “Thanks to Eddie Zunino, I’m not getting out of jail today,” Dykes said, eliciting laughter.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino shares a laugh will well-wishers during his retirement celebration.

Former Police Chief Edward A. Zunino shares a laugh will well-wishers during his retirement celebration.

Gayle Litwiniec-Sauers, who now works in the Chester County Sheriff’s Office, recalled being the first female police officer hired in Kennett Square and relying on Zunino in a variety of roles, including her first partner, first training officer and first range instructor.

“It’s no surprise that this room is filled with people who want to honor you,” Sauers told him.

At the end of the evening, Zunino expressed his gratitude for the celebration. “I’ve been lucky throughout my career to have tremendously excellent officers,” he said. “I just want to say it’s an honor to have each and every one of you here; it means so much to me.”

The former police chief (left) accepts a painting of Abe Lincoln done by Fred McCarthy, who says he believes Zunino possesses many of Lincoln's exemplary traits.

The former police chief (left) accepts a painting of Abe Lincoln done by Fred McCarthy, who says he believes Zunino possesses many of Lincoln's exemplary traits.

Zunino said many people made his career possible, expecially his wife, Lois. He recalled being on vacation in Ocean City one year when he got a call that three home-invasion suspects had been picked up in Puerto Rico, where they had fled. The following day he was on a plane to San Juan, noting that his wife never complained.

Despite the intrusions into his family life, Zunino’s three grown children – Ed Zunino Jr., Michelle Zunino Tuel and Jennifer Zunino-Smith – said he always made sure he had time for them. They each spoke lovingly about their father’s positive influence on their lives, which included practically growing up at the police station.

Ed Zunino Jr. said his father taught primarily by example, always stressing the importance of a work ethic and family. Michelle Zunino Tuel said that during some of her most difficult challenges, such as nursing school, her father kept her focused by regaling her with the childhood ditty about the ant and the rubber tree plant.

Former Chief Edward A. Zunino (left) is joined by West Goshen Det. Darren Sedlak.

Former Chief Edward A. Zunino (left) is joined by West Goshen Det. Darren R. Sedlak.

Jennifer Zunino-Smith said that her father, steeped in denial, has tried to talk her into moving back to Kennett Square daily ever since she relocated to New York 15 years ago. Finally, she said she decided to turn the tables and suggested that he come to New York. Without hesitating, he declined, telling her: “I just love Kennett Square.”

Although she didn't speak, Zunino's 93-year-old mother, Mary Zunino, proudly observed the festivities.

By now, many in the audience were dabbing at their eyes. His children’s heartfelt remarks, combined with the enormity of Zunino’s impact, resonated throughout the room. But ultimately, the crowd left with a sense of gratitude, secure in the knowledge that Zunino possessed a well-earned key to Kennett Square.

To see a photo tribute, click here.

 

 

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