PARK RIDGE, N.J. — Park Ridge’s very own Santa Claus died suddenly, leaving a hole in the hearts of all to whom he brought cheer waving from the firetruck on Christmas Eve.
Firefighter Mario Izzo made his debut as Santa in December 2003, recalled William Diedtrich, chief of the Park Ridge Volunteer Fire Department .
Izzo, who was 77, was born in Benevento, Italy, near Naples. He died Dec. 5.
“Being Santa was just simply an extension of his personality,” Diedtrich said.
“He was the epitome of what it means to be a volunteer in your local fire department,” the chief added.
“There was not a chore that needed to be done that Mario was not willing to volunteer to complete.”
Izzo also was the first one to ask about your family or check in when he thought you needed help, the chief said.
He is survived by his wife, Elena, and three children – Mario Izzo, Jr. of Michigan; Frank Izzo and his wife, Eva, of Park Ridge; and Francine Izzo of Park Ridge as well as three grandchildren and two siblings, according to his obituary .
He was a house painter in business with his son, Frank. Their company is Mario Izzo & Son Painters.
According to Frank Izzo, his father relished the role of Santa Claus.
“Doing Santa Claus on Christmas Eve was one of the things he really looked forward to as the day came up, year after year,” Frank Izzo said.
For years, he said, his father donned his red suit and beard on Christmas Day to visit patients at Pascack Valley Hospital in Westwood.
He went with the fire department, room by room.
“It was to bring a little holiday cheer to the patients,” Izzo said. “My dad was upset when the hospital shut down (in 2007) and he couldn’t do it anymore.”
In the end, Izzo said, his father was “a tough old Italian man” who actually would give you the shirt off his back if it would help you out.
“He could do anything, enjoyed making people smile, and loved children,” Izzo said.
“And he had the most awesome blue eyes that you’ve ever seen.”
Earlier in his life, Mario Izzo volunteered with the Cub Scouts and as an assistant coach, helping out with whatever sports his children were playing.
He joined the fire department, which he considered his second family, in 1982, his son said.
On Tuesday night, Park Ridge Mayor Terence Maguire noted Izzo’s passing into the public record.
“He will be missed,” the mayor said.
Izzo was a member of Our Lady of Mercy Roman Catholic Church in the borough.
Gifts in his name can be sent to the church or to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.