Joseph A. Balzano Jr., Joe to friends and family, was born in Camden, NJ on November 9, 1933 to the late Joseph and Anna Balzano. As a young boy he contracted a bone disease which left him with a permanent limp. This did not stand in his way, and on his return to school he was named Camden's outstanding young citizen for 1945.
Joe Balzano began his career at the Port of Camden in 1951 as an office clerk and equipment operator. Rising steadily through he ranks, in 1989 he was appointed as the South Jersey Port Corporation's Executive Director and Chief Executive Director for the South Jersey Port Corporation. For over five decades, he was a major force in the City of Camden spearheading port expansion and economic development coupled with his untiring philanthropy for Camden's less fortunate residents in the city where he was born and raised. He was an active and dedicated member of Sacred Heart Church in Camden, known and remembered for his yearly Christmas tree and countless other generosities.
Joe Balzano received countless awards and recognition for his legendary port operations expertise and his contributions to the community at large and he is a member of many civic and professional organizations. The New York Times called him "…one of the best port operators in the world."
Joe Balzano passed away on October 19, 2011. He rests at Calvary Mausoleum in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.
Joseph Balzano - In his own words
"I have worked at the Port for half of the 20th century and have been its CEO since 1988. During the past many years, the maritime industry and the Port of Camden has always been in continuous evolution. Among this steady course of change, the Delaware River has continued to serve as a highway to the world. Utilizing this highway, the Port of Camden servers as the gateway for the City of Camden and the entire Delaware Valley Region to expand commerce, develop global partnerships, and to enhance the State of New Jersey's transportation network.
The core of the Port Corporation's mission is to create employment opportunities and to enhance the economic activity of the Port District through port development and marine terminals operation. In serving our trade partners, tenants, port users and customers, the Port Corporation continues to proudly and successfully fulfill its mission. I along with our team eagerly anticipate the opportunity to peer into the 21st century and to connect new trading partners with our most potent transportation highway, the Delaware River."
1926: Creation of the South Jersey Port District by the New Jersey Legislature and touches off an explosion of growth that establishes the City of Camden as a world-class port.
1928: The South Jersey Port Commission begins operations at the "Camden Marine Terminals."
1951: Joseph A. Balzano begins his maritime career with the South Jersey Port commission.
1965: The Port of Camden handles a record breaking 424,173 tons, including 152,742,777 board feet of lumber.
1969: Joseph A. Balzano is promoted to Deputy Executive Director of Operations & Facilities.
1979: The Port of Camden becomes the second largest lumber port on the East Coast of the U.S.
1988: Joseph A. Balzano is promoted to the position of Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer.
1994: The 25th anniversary of the South Jersey Port Corporation culminates in the construction of a new berth at the Beckett Street Terminal and an agreement is finalized for SJPC to oversee the Port of Salem.
2000: Joseph A. Balzano begins his 50th year of service with the Port of Camden.
2001: The Port of Camden handles more than 2.3 million tons of cargo for the year, making it the second highest tonnage year in Port history..
www.Biz4NJ.com - 2006
The Best Port Master in the World
Since the port of Camden first kept official records in 1929, 14,500 ships have sailed into her berths. And during his 57 years working for the port, Mr. Joseph Balzano has witnessed more than 10,500 of them. As a young man, he hoisted their cargo on his back, or onto a fork lift. Since 1988, he worries about each vessel in his position of CEO of the South Jersey Port Corporation. If ever there has been a story of a job transformed into a dedicated crusade, it can be found in the life of Joe Balzano.
From its early youth, Camden’s life has focused on her port. In the 1680’s she began ferrying the outpouring of New Jersey’s iron boom across the Delaware to Philadelphia, and along the coast. The post-Civil War industrial boom saw Camden nurturing such manufacturing forces as Campbells Soup (1869,) the huge New York Ship Building Corporation (1899,) and the Victor Talking Machine Company (1901,) later to become the world’s first recording giant, RCA Victor. In its World War I heyday, New York Ship Building employed more than half the city’s total population.
It was into this legacy that Balzano was born. Son of a career stevedore, he, along with many other Camden youngsters, would haunt the docks, watching the huge cranes swing nets of exotic cargo from deep in the massive ships’ holds. In 1951, at age 17, with the aid of his father, Balzano obtained a job with the Port of Camden. It was to be the first, and last employer of his life.
“I was really sort of a gofer,” Balzano recalls. “I started out fetching more cups of coffee, than sacks cocoa beans.” Yet this roaming vantage gave the young worker an ideal opportunity to see the whole port’s inner machinery. Soon, Balzano was out on the docks loading cargo. It was a labor little changed since the ancient days of sail. Those who have viewed Elia Kazan’s 1954 classic film “On the Waterfront” may remember the long, ant-like lines of laden men, making their way onto the dock, stooping under their loads. “In those days, that was a lot of the work,” says Balzano. “Containers were more than a decade away. The use of pallets with forklifts was just coming in - mostly we used cartable trays.”
In 1951, Balzano labored throughout Camden’s two-berth marine terminal, which then had only two 15,000-pound-capacity cranes. Today, four 35-ton and a monstrous 90-ton crane loom over Camden’s docks, and the port bristles with forklifts capable of carting 4000 pounds. All are employed in loading the 4 million tons of imported cargo, and 1 million tons of exports passing through the docks annually.
The South Jersey Port Corporation encompasses Camden’s Beckett Street and Broadway terminals, along with the recently added Port Salem Terminal, 31 miles to the south. (Established in 1682, Salem claims title as one of America’s oldest continuous ports.) And while other transit authorities are struggling in the face of current economic downturns, the SJPC logged a record breaking $24 million in profits last year.
* Breaking a Niche.
The mid-1960’s saw a total revolution in international commerce that was to become the making of Camden’s port. Based on trucking entrepreneur, Malcolm McLean’s concept, the standardized container launched a system whereby goods could be shipped by boat, to rail and truck in the same unopened box. The waterfront became swiftly, irrevocably transformed. The vast armies of longshoremen hooking and hoisting small size crates no longer became a necessary cost of shipping. Security, safety, speed, and delivery reliability all took a giant leap forward.
It also signaled the end of a livelihood for the thousands who depended on the hand loading systems. Meanwhile, Camden itself, like scores of other old manufacturing cities, was experiencing a devastating loss of industry and exit of taxpaying populations to the suburbs. It might have been a crippling decade for the city of Camden.
But not everything fits nicely into little (or big) tin boxes. Items like scrap metal, rolls of steel, plywood and hard lumber, piping, and a whole host of perishable foodstuffs - anything that doesn’t store or pack easily in a container must be shipped loosely as break bulk cargo. So, while all the central east coast ports were sweeping away acres of dockside to store piles of containers, Camden took a bold move to become a break bulk cargo capital.
Today, cement, followed by steel, scrap metal, wood, and fruit are the highest tonnage of the port’s transfer. Last year, Camden port was the national leader in importation of ply and hard woods. 1 million tons of scrap metal was imported, mostly from India, China, and Turkey. Break bulk is more labor intensive, takes a greater range of skills, and has kept Camden waterfront employment high. Currently, 26,000 people directly or indirectly make their living from the port. Not bad for a city of less than 80,000.
* Competitive Edge.
Through friendly negotiations with Philadelphia and other New Jersey ports, Balzano has let it be known among shippers that Camden is the best place to have break bulk deposited and dispensed. “The other ports were happy to let this be our specialty,” says Balzano. “They were actually glad to have us take this off their hands. Now New York is clearing away it break bulk facilities for even more container space and so hopefully we’ll get even more of that trade.”
Adjacent access to interstates 295, and 676, along with both the New Jersey and Pennsylvania turnpikes and the Walt Whitman Bridge just miles away, makes Camden a convenient radial hub. Until recently, over 125 Garden State trucking companies have brought in over 15,000 trucks annually to the port. “With the price of fuel and new costly security monitors, we may be seeing the end of trucking’s domination in land shipping.” says Balzano. “No doubt rails will take up the slack. I feel we must embrace this next shift in transport. We will doubtless have to make more and better use of existent rail lines. But we have had changes before, and this one is more a matter of political and social will.”
He knows of what he speaks. Balzano’s own experience spans the original shift from rails to trucking. In the early l950’s much of what the young longshoreman hoisted on his fork lift went onto railroad flat beds. “Those were the happiest days of my life,” Balzano recalls. “It was just you and your blades. But then in 1961, it happened.” The “it” was Balzano’s first move into management as a 27-year-old dock supervisor. “It was a fluke, really,” he says modestly. “One fellow died, another had a breakdown, and there was only me. You know, from that day on 85 percent of the people on the dock stopped talking to me.”
The silence was not to last long. The men and women of the port all came to admire and befriend him. Balzano had actually started the union on Camden’s docks which made negotiations flow more smoothly when he sat on the other side of the table. By 1969, this Camden son was promoted to deputy executive director of operations & facilities. Now, in 2008, Balzano is celebrating his 20th year as executive director and CEO of the South Jersey Port Corporation, and at age 74 shows no sign of retiring.
“He is of the old school,” says port deputy executive director Jay Jones. “Joe is in here seven days a week, never taking a vacation. He micromanages, but in a warm and friendly way - having his finger in every part of this port, talking with everybody.”
* The Cocoa Coup.
But location alone is never enough to make it smooth sailing for any port. For years, Camden had taken the lion’s share of cocoa bean imports into the east coast. It was a natural. Beans from Africa’s ivory coast, Indonesia, and Asia, would come to Camden, which lay within 100 miles of 90 percent of the U.S. chocolate manufacturers. Yet in the1970’s, Norfolk, Virginia’s ports saw their chance. A fungus began appearing in the beans, and Norfolk claimed that her warmer climate would provide a safer port of entry. For 15 years all the cocoa went south. Finally, Balzano traveled to Norfolk to scope out the competition. He returned with an idea which was to greatly reduce speed and labor, and to bring cocoa back north.
Typically, loads of cocoa beans were moved in a three-step process. Sacks had to be slung out of the hold in a cargo net and placed on a dockside pallet. From their they were fork lifted into a transfer shed awaiting inspection and processing, and then forklifted once or twice more before arriving on the final truck or rail transport. Balzano designed and patented a small, maneuverable 12-foot-by-42-foot flatbed truck which, could ease along dockside. These trucks took the cargo directly from the hold and carted it through processing, right to the awaiting truck or rail car. The time savings made the fungus vanish, and the cost savings made the cocoa importers reappear in Camden.
It was innovative moves such as this that led the New York Times to honor Balzano with the title of “Best Port Operator in the World.”
Visitors in the trade have also been impressed with employee relationships. It is not uncommon to see a forklift operator from local 18 up on the roof hammering down shingles, when the needs be. “We have designed a very dynamic work environment, with flexible jobs. It gets all the tasks done, and it gives the majority of the staff - the loaders, mechanics and crane operators - more working hours and variety. They seem to like it,” says port deputy executive director Jones.
* The Tenant Trade.
Within its 250 acres, the South Jersey Port Corporation rents berths, warehouses, and space to 35 separate tenants. The largest of these, Del Monte Foods, brings most of its east coast fruits into its special piers at the Broadway Produce. Terminal. More than half a million tons of fruit enter that terminal annually. In 2001, St. Lawrence Cement built a $60 million facility in Camden, the largest of its kind anywhere. It also made it the heaviest (by weight) shipping tenant in the port with an expected one million tons being loaded on ships next year.
As trade and tonnage expands, both Philadelphia and Camden face a common problem. The current 40-foot channel depth in the Delaware is just too shallow. Larger and more heavily laden ships are scraping bottom. “Ships are coming in and having to wait at the dock for high tide. Some even plan their schedules so they can sail in and hastily sail out under the full moon high tide,” says Balzano.
Though both state governments remain reluctant due to costs, both Balzano and James McDermott Jr., executive director of Philadelphia Regional Port Authority, believe that they will fund the dredging. “It’s a simple equation,” said McDermott. “A deeper channel means more ships, and more cargo on each ship, more money for the port, and more jobs.”
Balzano currently plans expansion not only in water, but on land. “We have about 250 acres in the South Jersey Port Corporation - and we will need about 1000 to fully handle the traffic coming in the next years,” he says. Realizing that Camden city is fairly built out, Balzano is casting his eyes south on the deep water channels near less settled Paulsboro and Repaupo.
As with all ports, Camden’s forward thrust has come with it’s share of problems. Scandals involving everything from favoritism in contracts to strip club entertainment charged on the port’s tab have marred its image in recent years. But Balzano himself has always stood above reproach. His punishment of wrongdoers has always been swift and fair. “When I started in this port, longshoremen were making 85 cents an hour. Stevedores (the term for a longshoreman foreman) made $1.50. Now a longshore forklift operator makes $35 an hour. ($78,000 a working year.) That’s something we can point to as really benefiting the city,” he says.
And very few people revere their home town as much as Balzano reveres Camden. “I don’t think I have spent more than 200 days outside the city limits of Camden,” he says, “I’ve traveled to other places, but they never hold the warmth and friendliness I feel from this town.” Much of that Camden glow Balzano experiences comes from the river and its port. In his mind it is no accident that the vast city renovation ranging from the aquarium to night clubs, centers around the city’s waterfront.
“We’ve got more than a good business in this port here,” Balzano says. “Show me a little boy or girl who does not love to watch huge ships move in and out a berth. It’s the stuff dreams are made of.”
IMPORTANT QUOTE: “I work near a highway that is tied to the international world, and that highway is the Delaware River. My whole life has been a mesh of trying to be the connection between the working and living river.”
Camden Courier-Post - October 21, 2011
Joseph Balzano at the Beckett Street Terminal
Camden Courier-Post - October 21, 2011
Longtime South Jersey port director Joe Balzano dies
By Eileen Stilwell
Joseph A. Balzano, 77, executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp., has died after a long battle with leukemia.
Born in Camden, Balzano followed his father onto the docks at age 17 and stayed for 60 years, turning two marine terminals in Camden into an economic engine for the city. He died Wednesday at his West Deptford home.
Known for his quick temper and workaholic ways, he was a skilled politician who navigated South Jersey politics for decades and a competitive businessman who fought to attract cargo from around the world.
”Joe Balzano put the Port of Camden on the map. I expect condolences from Europe, Korea and Africa will pour in. He was a true ambassador for the city and the marine industry,” said Robert Palaima, owner of DRS, a stevedoring company that serves the region’s marine terminals.
Balzano’s blue-collar roots made him a loyal supporter of the working man, added Palaimo.
“He was one port leader who was universally trusted by labor. A rare quality.”
A compact man with a whiskey-and-cigarettes voice and a shock of salt-and-pepper hair, Balzano walked with a limp and was missing half of a finger on his right hand. In an interview years ago, he said people assumed he had been injured on the docks. The real cause, he said, was a childhood bout with a bone infection that left him with a determination to never let the handicap get in his way.
“ He never missed an opportunity to jump on a front loader or some equipment in the yard, “ said Jay Jones, deputy executive director of the port. “I think operating a fork lift leveled the playing field for him.”
As his father began to fail under the weight of chemotherapy, Joseph W. Balzano said he suggested he apply for a handicapped sticker for his car.
“He nearly bit my head off. He always had to prove himself. Right to the end. He was tough. Never took a sick day. No vacation,” recalled Balzano, president of Camden Iron and Metal in Camden.
A typical day for his father began with a quick tour of the port before attending 6 a.m. Mass at the Dominican Monastery next to Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center on Haddon Avenue. He would be back at his desk by 7 a.m. for the daily operations meeting; then would stay late into the night.
Balzano had a soft spot for the monastery’s cloistered nuns, who called his cell phone to make requests from the outside world. On weekends, he cut the monastery’s grass.
His office was packed with marine artifacts and a tiny chapel in a closet where he prayed to the Blessed Mother or his favorite saint, Padre Pio.
“I worked for him for 26 years. He was like a second father to me,” said Kevin Castagnola, acting executive director of the Port Corp. “We’ve lost the most compassionate person I’ve ever met. We could talk for hours about the wonderful, thoughtful, selfless things he did for people and the passion he had seven days a week for his job.”
Balzano’s friendship with Monsignor Michael Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart Church in the city’s Waterfront South neighborhood, goes back 31 years. Doyle was at Balzano’s bedside when he died and in a chilly warehouse early Thursday morning leading port workers in prayer.
“Joe was so much fun. I feel like an orphan. A tender, humble man. One minute he’s dealing with ships and cargo and new business. The next, he’s buying milkshakes for the sisters at the monastery, new clothes for a poor child, or finding a place for a boy to take a shower so he could go to school. The sweep of the man’s abilities is unmatched.”
Dick Alaimo, chairman of the Port Corp’s board since 1968, called him “ the best politician in Camden County.”
“He could get along with anybody, no matter how good or bad they were. Though he liked the limelight, I think he was most proud of his son’s accomplishments.”
Balzano ran a business in the city that angered residents because of the volume of truck traffic. But he also tried to mitigate the impact of a noisy, dirty industry, according to Helene Pierson, executive director of the nonprofit Heart of Camden. She noted Balzano built a green buffer zone between the port and the neighborhood, donated land for a greenhouse and helped create the Camden Shipyard and Maritime Museum on Broadway.
“He was our friend. Always there when we needed anything – whether it was knocking down a building or providing cherished Lil Wayne tickets for teens in the neighborhood,” she said. Balzano also shopped every Thanksgiving weekend for Sacred Heart’s Christmas Tree, said Pierson.
Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. said Balzano will not be forgotten.
“His vision for the port and his love and understanding of the importance of the Delaware River to Camden City and Camden County brought jobs and opportunities here. Luckily for all of us, his legacy lives on.”
Camden Courier-Post - October 21, 2011
Joseph A. Balzano is survived by his wife, Donna (nee Olsen), daughter Karen (Nick) Salerno of Woolwich and son Joseph W. Balzano of Mantua, and stepchildren: Rachael Abbatelli, Audrey Hubbard, Joseph Hubbard, Tess Pinto, Jude Hubbard and Rebecca Olsen; brothers Gus, Jerry Wilhelm and Frank, and sister, Lucille.
A 24-hour vigil for Balzano, of West Deptford, will be begin Monday at 11 a.m. at Sacred Heart Church, Broadway and Ferry Avenue, Camden. The 24-hour wake will be the first in the 125-year history of the church.
Family members will receive visitors Monday from 4 to 6 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. and again Tuesday from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.
Mass of the Resurrection will be held at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the church. Entombment services will follow at Calvary Mausoleum, Cherry Hill.
Arrangements are under the direction of the Falco, Caruso and Leonard Funeral Homes.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, 555North Lane, Conshochocken, Pa. 19428, or donors may sponsor a child through Sacred Heart Church, Attn: Gail Gooney, 1739 Ferry Ave., Camden 08104.
Philadelphia Inquirer - October 21, 2011
Longtime South Jersey port leader Joseph Balzano dies
by Linda Lloyd
Joseph A. Balzano, executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp., whose waterfront career spanned 60 years in Camden, died at his home in Woodbury on Wednesday night, surrounded by family, after battling leukemia for several years.
He was born in Camden and devoted his life to the city and to charities, including the Heart of Camden Housing and Sacred Heart Church, where one of his closest friends was Msgr. Michael Doyle, the pastor.
Mr. Balzano, 77, was remembered for his generosity, driving the cloistered Dominican nuns in Camden to doctors' appointments, and mowing the grass so the nuns would have a place for devotions.
"He gave not only of his money, but also his time and talents," said the Rev. Anthony Cataudo, chaplain at the Monastery of Perpetual Rosary on Haddon Avenue in Camden.
"I don't think there was anybody who ever met Joe who didn't like him. Everything he did came from his heart."
Mr. Balzano began at the port in 1951 as an office clerk and equipment operator and rose to become acting superintendent and dock superintendent. In 1988, he was named executive director and CEO of the state agency.
Through Democratic and Republican administrations, he stayed in the job, guiding the South Jersey port from 500,000 tons of cargo in 1968 to more than 4 million tons, port corporation board chairman Dick Alaimo said.
"He would work 14, 18 hours, weekends and holidays. He used to sleep in his office," said Jay Jones, spokesman for the port corporation.
"He had a tremendous work ethic," said Mr. Balzano's son, Joseph W. "He will be remembered most for his contributions to the port and to the city of Camden. He was influential in bringing the USS New Jersey battleship to the port as a museum. That was something he was very proud of."
Robert Palaima, president of the Delaware River Stevedores, said Mr. Balzano "was the only port leader who had the unquestioned trust of labor. He had an affection for people who worked at the port that was so unique for a port leader."
"He put the port of Camden on the map around the world," Palaima said. "You can travel to South Asia, Africa, or Europe and people will know Camden, N.J., for its port because of what he accomplished with bringing cocoa, steel, and plywood to the Delaware River."
Mr. Balzano was an original trustee of the Heart of Camden Housing and Community Development, which renovates abandoned houses and "puts people living in them," Father Doyle said. "He had a brilliance about him. I used to say he was a genius."
Politicians came and went, and Mr. Balzano was like Ol' Man River, who just keeps rolling along, Father Doyle said. "He could manage his way through all the land mines of political maneuvering, and yet he wasn't a political person. His focus was the port, the expansion of it, and putting people to work..
Philadelphia Inquirer - October 21, 2011
As head of the South Jersey Port
Corporation, Joseph A. Balzano
Gloucester County Times - October 21, 2011
Joseph Balzano, CEO of South Jersey Port Corp., dies
By John Barna
Joseph A. Balzano, whose maritime career along the Delaware River began in 1951 and eventually led to his becoming chief executive officer of the South Jersey Port Corporation, died Wednesday at home.
The West Deptford Township resident was 77.
“He was extremely devoted to the port,” offered Raymond Zane, a former state senator and current solicitor for the port corporation. “Outside the house, the port was his life.
The port corporation has expanded over the years from facilities in Camden and Gloucester City to a terminal in Salem and one under construction in Paulsboro.
“Long before people recognized an economy could be driven by this river, Joe knew,” Paulsboro Mayor and state Assemblyman John Burzichelli said in a 2005 Times article on Balzano.
Senate President Stephen Sweeney of West Deptford attributed “the growth of the Camden port and the birth of the Paulsboro port” to Balzano and his work ethic.
“The guy never stopped working,” Sweeney said.
But Balzano had health issues for several years.
Sweeney said word would be passed to him that Balzano was seriously ill.
“Two days later, you would find him at the port working,” the senator recalled.
“It was just the two of us, looking out at the water,” Balzano recollected. “Since then, it’s been a love affair.”
He began his maritime career with the South Jersey Port Commission in 1951, according to his agency biography. After working the docks by day, the Camden High School graduate took night classes in traffic management.
By 1969, he was deputy executive director of operations and facilities officer. He had a 60-plus-year career with the local port.
As discussions began within Gloucester County about converting a tank farm into the Port of Paulsboro, “everyone kept telling us you gotta see Joe,” said Sweeney, Gloucester County freeholder director at the time.
The thought was Balzano would have nixed the idea, Sweeney offered.
Balzano absolutely embraced it.
“Paulsboro would not have happened without Joe Balzano,” Sweeney asserted.
“Arguing with Joe is like playing chess with a master,” Thomas Corcoran, then president of the Coopers Ferry Development Association, said in 2005. The two frequently clashed over their visions for the Camden waterfront.
“He adopts the old Chinese proverb of ‘Bend, but don’t break.’ And he probably puts in 100 hours a week at that port – I admire anybody like that.”
Zane knew Balzano on a more personal level.
His father had worked at the Beckett Street Terminal.
The elder Zane was killed there in an accident in 1968.
“Joe was very kind to my mother after that,” Zane reflected. “He was good to our family.”
“He was just someone who was very likable and certainly very devoted to the success of the South Jersey Port Corporation.”
Balzano also was instrumental in getting the Battleship New Jersey berthed in Camden, noted state Sen. Donald Norcross of Camden.
Future generations will remember him, suggested Norcross.
“Joe Balzano was the embodiment of Camden’s rich industrial past,” said Norcross, “and through his work at the port he passed on his skills, work ethic, and integrity to the new generations that will carry his beloved city into the future.”
Mourners pay their respects to
Camden Courier-Post - October 25, 2011
Mourners Pay respects To Balzano
By Eileen Stilwell
CAMDEN — They came in sweatshirts and sneakers, trenchcoats and Italian loafers Monday to pay respects to Joseph A. Balzano, a member of the port community for 60 years, who died last week after a long battle with leukemia.
Floral arrangements shaped like boats, cranes and forklifts lined the walls of Sacred Heart RC Church at Broadway and Ferry Ave., along with photos and a slide show of a career on the Camden waterfront that began when Balzano was 17. One arrangement — more than a yard wide — marked one of the highest and lowest points of his career as executive director of the South Jersey Port Corp., which operates two marine terminals in Camden.
A garden of white roses and mums were shaped into a container ship with the word Del Monte on the stack and on miniature containers that dangled from a tiny hoist. Del Monte Fresh Produce operated out of the Broadway terminal for more than 20 years until last year when it moved next door to the Gloucester City Marine Terminal. Balzano called Del Monte the “Cadillac of the port” because of its international reputation and steady businesses — even in a down economy. The impact of the bitter departure in terms of lost revenues and jobs is still taking its toll on the Camden business.
Another bouquet from Tom Corcoran, former president of the Cooper’s Ferry Development Association which had vastly different plans for waterfront real estate than a gritty port, was signed “A Respectful Adversary. Best of Friends.”
Known for his excitable nature and quick temper, Balzano fought with John Bantivoglio, former owner of Camden Iron and Metal, on a regular basis, said the scrap metal expert Monday outside the church. “We had knock-down fights for years.
“When I visited him in the hospital after his first treatment, we said we couldn’t even remember what we fought about, only that we did it nonstop. Shame we wasted so much time fighting, when we really did like each other,” said Bantivoglio, of Florida. “He was a unique man who made huge personal sacrifice for the port.”
Balzano’s wake was also one of a kind. It ran from 11 a.m. Monday until the funeral, which is slated to begin at the church at 11 a.m. today. Monsignor Michael Doyle, his friend for 31 years, will officiate. More than 200 people attended the wake before noon. Family members took turns receiving mourners and taking occasional breaks in the church’s basement. The round-the-clock vigil was designed to accommodate a large crowd and a variety of work schedules.
After the funeral, Balzano’s coffin will be attached to a fork lift and driven by a longshoreman around a four-block sweep of the neighborhood.
The tour is to honor a man known for his generosity toward the poor of South Camden. Operating a forklift was one of Balzano’s early jobs at the port.
“He rode that forklift to his destiny. Because of his handicap, it made him feel equal to the strongest man,” said Monsignor Doyle.
Balzano had a bone infection as a child, which left him with a pronounced limp and missing half a finger on his right hand.
“He’d tell people a crab bit it off,” laughed his sister, Lucille Wilhem, who attended the viewing Monday with her three brothers.
“Dad was away a lot working the docks in Chicago and Joe was head of the household. He turned his paycheck over every week to Mom. He drove me wherever I needed to go. Being the only girl, he was very protective and very strict, but a lot of fun,” recalled Wilhelm, 72, of Pennsauken.
William Morris Jr. had a special connection to Balzano. He cleaned his office on the second floor of the Beckett Street terminal for 14 years.
“We had a key. He wouldn’t let anybody else in there alone,” said Morris at the viewing.
Packed with books, marine artifacts, half his wardrobe and a make-shift chapel because he was a deeply religious man, Balzano’s office was his second home.
Many of the marine artifacts will be donated to appropriate museums, said his son, Joseph, who lives in Mantua.
Balzano is survived by his wife, Donna, a former welder at the port, and her six children; his son, Joseph; daughter Karen Salerno of Woolwich, sister Lucille and three brothers with whom he regularly shared Friday night dinners.
George Wilson flew from Orlando, Fla., Monday morning to say goodbye to a childhood friend.
“Everybody has Joe stories, but I have a good one,” he said. “About 20 years ago, we were walking around the neighborhood when a guy comes up and asks for $2 to get gas. Says his family is stranded in a car somewhere. Joe only had a $100 bill. He holds out the money. The guy promises to bring back the change.
“You know where this is going,” said Wilson, shaking his head in disbelief at Balzano’s trust..
Camden Courier-Post - October 25, 2011
Mourners leave a viewing for Joe Balzano at Sacred Heart Church in
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