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  • Writer's pictureJoseph F. Berenato

Retirees share stories

Dog owners let the dogs out at Downtown Hammonton’s “Poocha Palooza” during the June 17, 2021 Third Thursday event. Joseph Berenato and Robin Ford of MainStreet Hammonton handout homemade dog biscuits. Omega is wearing a Poocha Palooza 2021 bandana. (THG/Kristin Guglietti. To purchase photos in The Gazette, call (609) 704-1940.)

HAMMONTON—Retirement—and the lifestyle changes that follow—comes in a number of forms, for a number of reasons.

For former Hammonton town clerk and business administrator Diane DeCicco, retirement came on January 1, 2001 after “42 years, six months and 15 days.”

“My husband was retired. I was older, and I was tired of working,” DeCicco said.

That being said, DeCicco noted that she enjoyed her work, and often misses the people with whom she worked.

“I thought I had great mayors and councils. I mean, each one did what they thought was right—whether I agreed with it or not was not the point—which was good. I had great people to work with. My staff was wonderful. I really enjoyed it. I don’t know if they enjoyed me, because, towards the end, they had a countdown on the calendar—‘Thirty days to go! 29! 28!’” DeCicco said.

In the ensuing years, DeCicco said that she has done a great deal of travel, including a recent trip with family.

“I just got back from Disney World with three generations. I was with two kids—my son and my daughter—I was with two grandchildren—my grandson and my granddaughter—and two great-grandchildren—my great-granddaughter and my great-grandson,” DeCicco said.

DeCicco said that she had other trips planned with friends, but they have been postponed due to the pandemic.

“We were planning on going to Italy—which I’ve been 17 times—but, until this COVID thing is done, I guess that’s done. I love Italy. I’ve been all over Italy, and I’ve been all over Europe—Paris, London; you name it, I’ve been there. Maybe it’s because of my heritage, but Italy, to me, is a place where you just can’t get enough of it,” DeCicco said.

DeCicco said that retirement hasn’t been what she pictured following the death of her husband, Anthony “Butch” DeCicco, in 2019, but she is able to find contentment regardless.

“I would have enjoyed it more if I had my husband with me, but I’m enjoying whatever I can enjoy and am thankful for what I have,” DeCicco said.

DeCicco said she finds ways to fill her days—when she’s not traveling the globe.

“I just redid my den, and put new siding on the house. I decorated for Christmas. I babysit. Mostly, I just read and relax,” DeCicco said.

DeCicco said that her favorite genres include romance, travel and history.

“I love history. I’m into the 10th book of a 17-book series about the Civil War. I’m pretty easy. I don’t like scary stuff, like Stephen King or any of his sick stuff. I want them all to live happily ever after, which doesn’t happen in real life, so you might as well enjoy it in a book,” DeCicco said.

For Charlotte Cessato, retirement came in 2000 after 33 years as a history teacher at Hammonton High School.

“I had cancer; that was in 1992. I made up my mind that, if I could retire at 55, I would. I figured, I wanted to have time to do the things I’d like to do, and that was it. My kids were in college, and, financially, they had offered us a buyout, and it just made sense to go,” Cessato said.

Cessato said that she and her husband, Bill, traveled often before his death in 2008.

“I wanted to go to Italy, and we did. A lot of those things we did before Bill died, which really makes me happy. We went to Italy. We went to France and England. We traveled within the United States. I know we went to Washington D.C. like every other week to see my kids. I went with my friends to Charleston, which I always wanted to do, but, unfortunately, you run out of time; these were things I wanted to do with my husband, but we ran out of time,” Cessato said.

Cessato’s family continued to evolve after she retired.

“My daughter got married and I had a grandchild ... I got two dogs after I retired. My kids thought I needed a dog, and they were right,” Cessato said.

During her retirement, Cessato became heavily involved with the former St. Anthony of Padua Church.

“When Bill was dying, we found out—in the beginning—that St. Anthony’s was supposed to close. When he heard me on the phone, he got all teared up. He looked at me and said, ‘Oh no.’ I said, ‘I’ll do whatever I can to keep it going.’ For years, I did. I really worked a lot at the church, mainly social events, special services that we had. We had a beautiful Christmas concert and a Blue Mass. Me and a bunch of other old ladies worked on all the refreshments,” Cessato said.

Cessato was also part of a book club for several years with other retired faculty from the Hammonton School District.

“We cooked dinners. We would always try to do things that went along with the books that we were reading. If it was a southern book, we’d cook southern; that kind of thing. That was fun,” Cessato said.

Even without the book club, Cessato said that she reads three or four books per week.

“I’m not talking Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary, either. I like contemporary stuff. I read a lot—a lot. Now that I have Kindle Unlimited, I usually try to go for the free ones—so you know they’re not literature, but they keep me entertained. ‘Oh, I think I’ll sit down today and read Tolstoy.’ No, that’s not me. I read a lot of easy, contemporary stuff. I don’t want to have to worry when I’m reading a book,” Cessato said.

Cessato said that she has stayed busy during retirement and does not miss working.

“I walked out the B-wing doors the last day, and I said, ‘This is the end of this part of my life.’ I never went back to visit ... Now, I see the people I want to see—Facebook has been great for that—and I go out with my friends,” Cessato said.

Some retirees, like Joseph Berenato III, are newcomers to the lifestyle.

While Berenato retired several years ago after serving as the Hammonton School District’s transportation director for 27 years, he most recently retired—for good—after working for four years at AtlantiCare in Egg Harbor Twp.

“I transported cancer patients; I picked them up at their house and dropped them off for treatments then took them back,” Berenato said.

Berenato said that a dog attack several months ago prompted his decision.

“I had therapy, and I lost 40 percent of the strength in my left arm. When I was attacked, I fell on my left arm and I was in therapy for 12 weeks, and I still didn’t get the strength back in my left arm. Working with wheelchairs and walkers and people getting off the lift, I was afraid,” Berenato said.

Additionally, the travel demands of the job were cause for concern.

“You know when your body says that it’s time to get out. I just turned 75, so I figured it was time,” Berenato said.

Berenato said that he and his fiancée, Robin Ford, now fill their days with volunteer activities, most notably with Hammonton Heart and Soul and MainStreet Hammonton.

“With Heart and Soul, we might interview people—what they like in Hammonton and what they don’t like in Hammonton—but most of the stuff we do is with MainStreet ... It’s my third year. Robin works with them, and I work with her. We do all the events—Green Day, Cruisin’ MainStreet, the tree lighting—I help out and put the posters up. We hand all the posters out to all the businesses in town,” Berenato said.

Additionally, retirement has afforded Berenato the opportunity to travel.

“We take day trips; we go away for two or three days ... We go to Lancaster. We go to Maine. I’m going to be going to Hawaii in August,” Berenato said.

Berenato said that he is enjoying retirement and all that it has brought to his daily routine.

“We have our coffee in the morning with our group at Bellevue Bagel Café; we have that every day. Sometimes, in the afternoon, we’ll go to Casciano’s and have a coffee. We go to dinner a couple times a week; we go to the VFW and have our Monday dinner. We exercise, walk, we work around the house and take care of my husky—the normal retirement things,” Berenato said.

For some retirees, like Dave Murphy, retirement affords opportunities to branch out in a number of different directions.

Murphy retired from Lenape High School in Medford, N.J.—where he was an English teacher and the coordinator for the English department—in June of 2008.

Murphy said that there were multiple things that led to his decision.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who, when he left, everybody said, ‘Thank God he’s gone’ ... It was simply time to graduate. After 31 years of full-time teaching and working on a master’s degree, it was simply time to graduate,” Murphy said.

Since retirement, Murphy taught as an adjunct professor at Atlantic Cape Community College—where he also served as a mentor for incoming faculty—and volunteered to conduct poetry workshops at Cumberland County Jail.

“When I was involved with the Eagle Theatre under the previous director, Scott Van Pelt, we got talking one day and I said that I wanted to do poetry workshops, so he and I ran them at the theater that met once a week. The previous warden at Cumberland County Jail, Robert Bilicki, was there, and one day he asked if I would consider doing them at the jail,” Murphy said.

Murphy said that the workshops were held intermittently for four years and led to a similar opportunity.

“Somebody at Enlightened Solutions saw what we were doing at the jail, and contacted me and asked me if I could do the same thing—conduct poetry workshops—for people in recovery there on Tilton Road. I loved that, but COVID has put a real damper on that. I was very active for two years there, conducting poetry workshops once or twice a week for people in recovery there. That was a great experience,” Murphy said.

Outside of a classroom setting, Murphy said that he has not strayed far from the written word.

“I do some writing; I’m finishing up a young adult novel, and I write some poems every once in a while ... Recently, I’ve been doing some research, writing and photography for the Hammonton Chamber of Commerce biennial business guide,” Murphy said.

Murphy has also volunteered as a docent at the Shofuso Japanese House and Garden in Philadelphia, as well as at the Discovery House Faith Walk and Rosary Garden on Richards Avenue in Nesco.

“I’m a docent there, and sometimes I wind up doing other things. I really love it; it’s a humbling experience. It’s one of my favorite places on the planet,” Murphy said.

Murphy said that perhaps his greatest activity since retiring is spending time with family, including being grandfather to “two wonderful guys, Alec and AJ.”

“I’m thrilled to be able to get to different activities and be available for them as Pop-Pop. A number of times I looked after Alec when he was getting out of school, and AJ; I was involved in afterschool care. One is now at Drexel, and one’s a junior at Hammonton High School. It has been a profound experience. I’m delighted to be with my wife, Joanne and glad to be available as Pop-Pop ... I’ve also been honored and happy to be involved in my nephew Andrew’s life and to be available for friends and family,” Murphy said.

Murphy said that he is enjoying retirement, and is grateful for it.

“I was lucky that other doors opened up. I never wanted to be the kind of guy who retired and just sat down; I felt there was more to give. I still have something left, I think ... When you retire, whatever age that may be, there’s still more to do,” Murphy said.

Steve Zoyac would agree with that assessment.

Zoyac, 54, retired in October of 2013 after serving for 25 years as a member of the Hammonton Police Department.

“I started young and I actually got out at a fairly young age for law enforcement. I retired at 46. During the course of my career, I got married and had a son. Being a police officer—or any field of law enforcement—you miss out a lot. You really have to use your time very well in spending time with family. I had my time in with the pension system and thought I would be able to spend more time with my family,” Zoyac said.

Zoyac also saw his retirement as an opportunity to research another line of work where he could utilize his training, background and education.

“That led me into private security work. Right now, I work for a company that does contracts at federal facilities. Right now, I work at the FAA William J. Hughes Technical Center. We are a contract security service, and we provide security in all different facets there from security to the grounds, to screenings, to escorts and service,” Zoyac said.

Zoyac said that the security force there consists of retired law enforcement.

“We’re up to almost maybe 70 retirees; we’re bigger than some police departments in Atlantic County,” Zoyac said.

This job, Zoyac said, has also allowed him to reconnect with an old colleague.

“A few years after I got hired there, another retiree—Mike Carrelli—came out there and joined there. It’s unique and it’s great, because Mike and I started together. We went through the academy together and we retired at the same time, and now we’re back together working again. It’s good,” Zoyac said.

The regular schedule provided by his current employment has allowed Zoyac to spend more time with his family.

“When you’re on the force here in town, you’re on call 24/7. I don’t know how many times I got up from a meal, or got called in the middle of the night ... It’s been really nice to actually sit down and have a meal at a reasonable time where you don’t have to get up and run out the door. You’re able to have holidays off and spend time with your family during the holidays and go on trips. It’s really enjoyable,” Zoyac said.

Zoyac said that he is now able to do more of the things that he enjoys, including hunting, fishing and traveling.

“It’s nice getting in a car and traveling to different areas, north, south. This year, I’ve got plans to go out West and seeing what that looks like. I’ve been to Mexico and the islands, but mostly I’ve been staying stateside and seeing what the United States has to offer,” Zoyac said.

Zoyac said that he is very much enjoying his retirement.

“I do miss aspects of the job, but at that point I saw what was an opportunity for me to move on, and I can say, the years after I retired, I have no regrets of retiring. It’s a different ballgame now, and I think of what I did in 25 years—and if I didn’t do it in 25 years, I’m not going to do it in another 25 years. If anything, I did a good job, and I dedicated myself to the community of Hammonton for 25 years,” Zoyac said.


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