By Jessica Meditz
Many people utter the phrase, “I wear many hats” when describing themselves in an interview or biography.
It’s true for some people—others, not so much.
Joseph “Joe” Martino, who was a Maspeth resident and ran Hess Miller Funeral Home on Metropolitan Avenue in Middle Village, certainly fit the bill.
Joe passed away in June of 2022, leaving a void in the Queens and Brooklyn communities he served in various ways. He was 94 years old.
His son, Mike Martino, said that even in his father’s final years, he continued to follow his own personal mission: giving back to the community.
“Dad had a really big personality. Like many people from his generation, he was defined by just a few key things: his faith, his family and his country. Fundraising was also always extremely important to him,” Martino said.
“As an Italian, he was passionate about everything that he did, because he used to tell us, ‘If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing the right way,’” he continued.
Although Joe Martino was born in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1927, he came from an old school Italian family from the province of Salerno in the town of Sanza, located in the Campania region of southern Italy.
Martino married his wife, Antoinette, in 1951, and they quickly moved to Maspeth.
He served in the U.S. Army during World War II in Japan from 1945 to 1947, and one of his biggest roles was serving food to 5,000 men every single day as a cook.
“His service was everything to him, so his participation in the VFW for years and years was always extremely important to him as well,” Mike Martino said.
His support for all the men and women in the armed forces prompted him to take his role as commander of the VFW Queens Post very seriously. Martino served there for four years.
In honor of his service, Martino was awarded the Asiatic Pacific Commemorative Victory Medal in 2017 and was named Grand Marshal of the Queens Veterans Day Parade the same year.
Following the same sentiment, Martino and his son Anthony fulfilled a personal mission to provide funeral services to veterans who had no family or funds for a burial, incurring the costs to put on a service with dignity.
“That was very, very important to them, especially with my dad being a veteran and the services they could provide,” Martino said.
“He won countless awards and recognitions, which really didn’t mean anything to him,” he continued. “The important part was performing the mission.”
Joe Martino had a great passion for helping the less fortunate, as shown through his work with St. Vincent DePaul Society and St. John’s Bread and Life.
Joe was a member of St. Vincent DePaul Society for 50 years, where he served as president of the Brooklyn/Queens chapter for several years and went on to receive the St. Vincent De Paul Medal of Honor.
The Martinos began volunteering at the St. John’s Bread and Life soup kitchen in Bedford Stuyvesant during 1984, and Joe was quickly asked to be a member of the board of directors.
Today, the organization feeds over 1,000 clients daily.
Joe helped kickstart their mobile unit, which feeds hundreds of clients per day in Queens and Brooklyn.
Antoinette and Joe Martino received awards for their charitable work, including the Bronze Apple from former Mayor Rudy Giuliani and the Caritas Medal from St. John’s University.
It is among the highest honors awarded by the university for outstanding service to the less fortunate.
“Even in failing health, he was still performing his mission. For example, he made sure that turkeys were getting delivered at Thanksgiving,” Martino said.
“He could have just thrown that all off, but he just had to know it was all being done,” he continued. “My dad never used the term ‘poor,’ he used the term ‘less fortunate.’ He always felt that the ‘poor’ was a nomenclature that shouldn’t define people. Certain people just had less money than others, and certain people had less ability than others.”
Joe’s passion extended to his Italian cooking.
One of his specialties was the seven varieties of fish he would prepare each year on Christmas Eve for Festa dei sette pesci, or Feast of the Seven Fishes, in which Italian-Americans abstain from meat as a sacrifice.
The meal would take days of advanced preparation, which Martino loved every second of.
“He also made his homemade sauce on Sunday mornings, and then the family was off to church service,” Martino said.
“And when he came back, he had the big Italian meal in the afternoon for everyone. Everyone napped afterward, as one would envision,” he added. “The guy could really cook.”
The Martino family became closely involved with St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish in Maspeth, which was almost like a second home for Joe.
He was an active parishioner at the church for the past 65 years, and in 2009, he was inducted to the St. Stan’s Hall of Fame for his many years of dedication and commitment to the parish.
A true man of faith, Martino made every effort to go to Mass each Sunday — even during the pandemic.
Although he was not technologically savvy, Joe would stream masses from around the world through the iPad gifted to him by his family. Even if he didn’t speak the language the priest was speaking, the faith was within him.
“Before I delivered the eulogy, one of the parishioners in his church before the funeral said, ‘Your dad was like the 13th Apostle. He was out there just doing God’s work, without seeking any recognition,’” Martino reminisced.
“I talked about that in my eulogy about his helping the less fortunate. Once he heard of what the need was, if he didn’t have the ability to take care of it, he went and recruited someone or found someone to do it,” he continued. “Whenever I came back to New York to visit, like around Thanksgiving holiday, my dad would say, ‘Take a ride with me.’ But little did I know in the trunk of his car, he had 30 frozen turkeys…and we would drive from one end of Brooklyn to the other delivering them to the less fortunate.”
Joe is survived by five children: Anthony, Michael, Maria, Joann and Annemarie; six grandchildren: Paul, Nicole, David, Matthew, Valerie and Frankie; and three great grandchildren: Paul Jr., Anthony and Kira.
Although Martino was close with his biological family, they say that Joe had many “chosen” family members in the community — who often got invited to family gatherings and dinners.
2022 marks the 40th year of Hess Miller Funeral Home operating under the Martino family.
Anthony Martino will carry on Joe’s legacy of family, faith and community in his memory for many years to come.