It has been a year since the death of beloved husband, father, and former state trooper Robert J. Santelli. After a long bout with Alzheimer's Disease, Santelli died on April 8, 2004 at his home in Point Pleasant Beach at the age of 75.
This decorated war veteran was a member of the New Jersey State Troopers for 30 years and rose to head the State Police Internal Affairs Bureau and Organized Crime Bureau, but before then he was one of West New York's boys in blue.
On April 20 in a special tribute to Santelli's memory, Assembly Speaker Albio Sires, who is also the mayor of West New York, presented the Santelli family with a resolution from the New Jersey State Assembly for his contributions both to the state of New Jersey and the U.S. Army during the Korean War. The resolution was presented at West New York City Hall at 11 a.m.
“I was extremely close to my dad,” said Jack Santelli, the youngest son. “He was a great father, and he was always there for his children and his wife.”
Robert Santelli was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1928, the only son in a family of five. The family then moved to Cliffside, New Jersey, before settling in West New York. He graduated from Memorial High School in January of 1947 and enlisted in the U. S. Army in 1951
“He encouraged my in sports and to be patriotic, and I followed in his footsteps joining the state police and the military,” said Jack, who is presently a staff sergeant with the U.S. Marine Corps and a retired state trooper.
Young and in love
Next to Santelli's senior picture in the 1946 Memorial High School yearbook, it stated, “Bob, whose weakness is Dorothy Visco, may be found on the corner of Madison and 61st Street cracking jokes and reciting poems, then saying ‘Ooh my nerves!' He wants to be a second Mark Twain.”
“My father used to write poems a lot and apparently was a very good writer,” said Jack Santelli, youngest son. “At one time he wanted to be a writer.”
Santelli would also apparently always be on the corner of Madison Avenue and 61st Street because that was where his wife Dorothy used to live.
“My father stayed back purposely to in high school for another six months just be with my mother,” said Jack Santelli, youngest son. “He and my mother were very tight. They were always holding hands, and he always took her everywhere.”
According to Jack, from the time they met, Dorothy and Robert were inseparable.
“They met in high school when my father was 16 and my mother 15, and they were married for 53 years,” said Jack.
After graduation, the pair became engaged. Five months after Santelli enlisted in the U.S. Army, they got married. The next few years brought the births of their three children Robert, Jack and Jill.
Love of country
During his service in the Korean War, Santelli served as a machine gunner with the 1st Cavalry Division, where he received the Combat Infantry Badge, Korean Service Medal, three Combat Service stars, and a Purple Heart for wounds he sustained in combat.
“My father was a big physical fitness person; a consistent weight lifter and body builder throughout the '50s and '60s when it wasn't yet popular,” said Jack.
After being discharged from the Army in 1953 at the rank of Corporal, Santelli was encouraged to join the West New York Police Department. Born and raised in West New York, much of Dorothy's family and some of his own were former or retired West New York policemen and firemen.
“He loved physical training and aspired to be a New Jersey State Trooper because of their tradition and training. He wanted to excel,” said Jack.
Two years after joining the West New York Police Department, he continued on to the New Jersey State Police, where he was a member of the 49th State Police class. After a stint as a road trooper and detective, Santelli was promoted to detective sergeant in 1968 and assigned to the Criminal Investigation Section, undercover unit, and later the fugitive unit.
In 1978 Santelli was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant, and had become the North Unit Supervisor of the Organized Crime Bureau and supervisor of the Official Corruption unit. In 1981 he made Captain and became Chief of the Internal Affairs Bureau. Later on he also assisted the Deputy Attorney General at the Hudson county Prosecutor's Office, and supervised the Organized Crime Bureau before retiring in 1985.
Afterwards Santelli went to work as a surveillance supervisor for Bally's Grand Casino, originally the Golden Nugget Casino, in Atlantic City for eight years.
The family man
“My father was a real avid sports man,” said Jack. “He was a big fan of college football and a big Rutgers fan, although he is not a graduate of Rutgers.”
Jack remembers his father loved to support the state university teams like Rutgers and Montclair, and attended many of their games along with his children. Spending time with them was one of his favorite pastimes.
“He was a man's man, and he loved spending time with his kids,” said Jack. “He would take us on bike rides and push us on swings in the park. I remember spending a lot of time with my father growing up.”
Following in their father's footsteps, all three of the Santelli children were very active and athletic, and Santelli would be rooting his kids on from football to cheerleading.
“He was a big supporter and always there for us,” said Jack. “He was a real dedicated guy to his family and he loved the state police.”
In addition to his official duties, Santelli also became very active in the community of Point Pleasant Beach where he lived for 38 years, including serving as president of the Carnet Gulls Booster Club for the local high school. He also was a member of the Point Pleasant Beach Recreation committee.
“He was inducted into the Point Pleasant Beach school system hall of fame, and received the civic award for his contributions,” said Jack.
On June 10, 1998 Santelli received the state's top military award, the Distinguished Service Medal, which was awarded to 52 NJ residents who were veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, and received the equivalent of the Air Medal (Purple Heart, Bronze Star) while on active duty during war time.
Honored once again
Last month, Santelli was remembered one more time by his peers in West New York.
“He had a lot of friends in West New York and people respected him, but my mom and I were shocked when we heard that West New York wanted to honor my father,” said Jack.
Jack Santelli credits four of his father's lifelong buddies, who he feels brought this up to Mayor Sires' attention.
“I would like to give some credit to Ray Casper, Warren Wolf, Hank Cerelli, and Jackie McDonald,” said Jack. “These four men were all lifelong friends, and I think they went to Mayor Sires and asked him to recognize my father for being a good West New York son. I would also like to thank Mayor Sires who was instrumental in this.”
Dorothy Santelli was given the proclamation and a plaque with a key to the town of West New York. Santelli is survived by his wife; three children, Robert, Jack and Jill; three grandchildren Jaron, Jenna and Jake Santelli; and his four sisters: Helen, Agnes, Lillian and Rita.
Robert J. Santelli is buried in Virginia's Arlington National Cemetery as a decorated war hero.
SANTELLI, ROBERT J
- CPL US ARMY
- DATE OF BIRTH: 11/21/1928
- DATE OF DEATH: 04/08/2004
- BURIED AT: SECTION 69 SITE 3207
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Michael Robert Patterson was born in Arlington and is the son of a former officer of the US Army. So it was no wonder that sooner or later his interests drew him to American history and especially to American military history. Many of his articles can be found on renowned portals like the New York Times, Washingtonpost or Wikipedia.
Reviewed by: Michael Howard