From a background of family achievements, he builds his own
Pictured (left to right): Paul DeSimmone; Linda Locantore (committee member); Gaspar DeSimmone; Cynthia Rocco and John Rocco, honoree; GPCC Executive Director David Kennedy; Margie Felice (committee member); Paul Felice (past Italian-American of the Year and current committee member); Lenny Locantore (St. Liberata committee chair).

Photo by Krystle DiNicola

From a background of family achievements, he builds his own

Story By: LINDA LEUZZI
9/17/2015


Either you integrate the best of your family’s character traits or you don’t.

Growing up surrounded by the go-getters in his family, St. Liberata’s Italian-American of the Year John Rocco was influenced by what he saw. 

Then he added his own accomplishments.

He’ll be waving from the gator, an ATV used to get into tight spots.

Actually, his vehicle of choice for the St. Liberata parade is a kind of metaphor for what he does.

Folks will see him on the scene at times, where he shoves off his Patchogue Ambulance Co. chairman and chief executive officer hat and gets in there to help at least twice a week. (Rocco is certified as an emergency medical critical care technician, one of the highest certificates given to first responders.) The ambulance company screams out of their Main Street headquarters on 2,800 calls a year. He also presides as chairman of the Patchogue Village Planning Board.

Anyone who’s been to the meetings knows the decision-making process can be tough.

But, back to his roots.

“You got the wooden spoon if you stepped out of line,” he recalled of his mom, Anna, a disciplined but loving parent.  “Every Italian kid knew that. The family on my mother’s sided lived in Borough Park, Brooklyn. They were seamstresses and worked for Christian Dior, an uncle was a tailor, and there were barbers and cosmetologists. They had successful businesses in Manhattan. A piece of it sticks with you. They came here with not very much, established careers and were successful.”

 He lives on the same street he grew up on with his wife Cynthia.

“My father Vincent instilled in me a hard-work ethic,” he said. “Being a good family man was the most important thing and being kind and decent. He’s a quiet man but well regarded.”

Vincent Rocco is 95 and still does woodworking. He was an auto mechanic teacher for Patchogue-Medford High School and was one of the first vocational teachers for BOCES.

John Rocco’s first job was at Phil’s Dock, the site of what is now Dublin Deck, cutting lawns and painting boat bottoms. He attended Suffolk County Community College, then SUNY Geneseo, graduating with a degree in speech pathology. He became a life agent with Northwestern Mutual Life, then had a long career as senior account manager for Motorola, which spanned 30 years, and was responsible for most of the county’s police and fire communications and 911 systems in use. He and Cynthia have two children, Jeffrey and Mark.

He joined the Patchogue Fire Department in 1970 and became its captain in 1980; Rocco volunteered for the Patchogue Ambulance Co. when he was 21. “Organizations like the Lions Club and Kiwanis are wonderful groups, but I wanted to be more hands-on,” he explained. He has a Jack Russell terrier named Grady. The breed is tenacious. Like Rocco.

Eva Greguski, a Patchogue Village Planning Board member, has worked with Rocco on a number of issues and initiatives over the years. “He’s very fair, he’s very honest,” she said. “We are on the either side of the political spectrum, but he is very respectful. He’s a guy who puts in a lot of time and he really has a great sense of humor.”

That pops out when you least expect it.

What do you do to relax when you get home, he was asked. “I foam at the mouth,” he deadpanned. (Actually, he added, he is studying for his amateur radio license. And since he’s retired from Motorola, he takes care of house projects. “My life is centered around Patchogue,” he said.)

 Patchogue Ambulance Co. board member John Fleischmann, current minister of Christ Lutheran Church in East Moriches, is a former East Patchogue resident who used to see Rocco daily. “I’ve known John since 1988 through the ambulance company and he’s one of my closest friends,” Fleischmann said. “He’s very organized and knows what he wants and basically has taken the ambulance company out of the Patchogue fire house and built a new ambulance company. Then he secured the old Suffolk County Water building for their headquarters. He’s a strong leader and a well respected and caring person.”

But that sense of humor came up. 

“I remember when they got the new ambulance building,” Fleishmann recalled, laughing. “At the first board meeting, he encouraged everyone to eat beans; they christened the room that night.”

Life is short; enjoy it with a smile.

Rocco is humble about the upcoming recognition and credited his cousin Mary McWilliams, who wrote a letter to the Greater Patchogue Foundation committee recommending him. 

“Tom Keegan came to a planning board meeting and queried the board members and asked if they could get an alternate location for the bocce courts,” Rocco said. “He thought they would be excellent to get this done, as ‘your chairman is our St. Liberata Italian-American of the Year.’” He was presented with a flag.

An auspicious intro, honoring a deserving Italian-American.