Korean War veteran Leonard J. Desiderio, the father of Mayor Leonard C. Desiderio, exchanges a salute with Charles Haines, the former commander of VFW Post 1963, during a Memorial Day ceremony in 2019.


He always went by Mr. D. It was a short nickname for a man with a long list of accomplishments, a life well lived, one that touched so many.

Leonard J. Desiderio, of Sea Isle City, the father of Mayor Leonard C. Desiderio, died on Monday, Jan. 10 at the age of 93. He is predeceased by his son, Gerard Desiderio, who passed away at age 43 of heart failure in 2003.

Desiderio was a Korean War veteran who served as an Army corporal. He was a retired and beloved elementary school principal and a local business owner. Most of all, he was a loving husband for nearly 71 years to his wife, Carmel, a father of two and a grandfather, his family said.

“He was a great man. I was very fortunate to have a great father and a great mother. They instilled a strong work ethic in me and the importance of family,” Mayor Desiderio said in an interview Friday.

Mr. D was the first generation owner of Sea Isle businesses Kix McNutley’s and Sea Isle Inn, which he started in 1965. The mayor and his daughter, Carmela, now run Kix and the Sea Isle Inn.

Carmela, 23, said that like her father, her grandfather taught her about the value of hard work.

“My grandpa started work when he was 10 and he and my grandma and my father set the bar that you have to work hard to get to where you have to be,” she said Friday. “I started work at 9, dusting bottles, cleaning, because they instilled the importance of hard work in me. That is our work ethic.”

Mr. D, who lived with his wife in Nutley, N.J., until making Sea Isle their full-time residence in 1996, was a teacher who worked his way up to vice principal at Forest Glen Elementary School in Bloomfield, N.J. Later, he served as an adjunct professor at Seton Hall University.

Carmela noted proudly that her grandfather was the first vice principal ever at Forest Glen.

He then became principal at Oak View Elementary School in Bloomfield. He spent 33 years as an educator and principal before opening the Sea Isle businesses.

As a business owner in Sea Isle, he and his wife worked as a team.

“They worked side-by-side on everything,” the mayor said.

Three generations of Desiderios, Mayor Leonard C. Desidero, left, daughter, Carmela, and Leonard J. Desiderio. (Photo courtesy of the Desiderio family)

Perhaps it was his modest beginnings that made him who he was — strong, humble and a hard worker.

“My father always promoted education and he would tell my nephew, ‘I didn’t always have this dollar in my pocket. I had to work hard.’”

He was born on June 7, 1928, in a cold water flat in Newark, N.J.

“Sometimes it was colder in the house than it was on the fire escape,” the mayor said of his father’s recollections. “He was born during the Great Depression.”

At the age of 10, Mr. D went to work selling flags at a cemetery in Newark.

“Any money he made, he would bring home to help with the family expenses,” the mayor said.

He went to Newark schools and met his future wife in high school.

“They were married for almost 71 years. They were a real team,” the mayor noted.

Leonard J. Desiderio married Carmel in 1950. Shortly, thereafter, he was drafted to the Korean War.

“He served in Operation Blue Jay. It was a special mission,” the mayor explained.

Upon his return from the war in 1953, he went to school under the GI Bill.

For 16 years, he went to night school to receive his college education, which included more than one master’s degree.

He was never idle. In the summers, despite having a profession that allowed him time off, Mr. D. never stopped working to support his family.

“He had different jobs. He worked for the recreation department. He was a delivery man for a florist and a salesman. He went door to door selling sewing machines,” the mayor said.

But it wasn’t always about work for Mr. D.

Carmela remembered times when her grandfather would share special moments with her.

“Since I am the only girl grandchild, I was the baby – not the youngest – but the baby,” Carmela said. “I had a bond with my grandpa that I will always have and cherish. We used to eat cookies together and have hot chocolate and coffee dates.”

The Desiderios were married nearly 71 years. (Photo courtesy of the Desiderio family)

Mr. D. enjoyed going out with his loving wife, Carmel, and their friends.

“He wore a tie and a sports jacket. He was old school. He loved to go out to dinner with friends and family and as recently as a month ago he went out to dinner and I drove them,” the mayor said.

Throughout his life, Mr. D helped so many. He had big and small acts of kindness that he did not highlight or announce.

He just did them, because it was the right thing to do.

“My father was a very humble and generous man. He did things behind the scene. So often times, he would see a veteran or a Coast Guard member and anonymously pick up the bill at a restaurant or store,” the mayor recalled.

He continued, “He was pro-service and pro-America. He was as comfortable talking to presidents and governors as he was with customers at Kix. Everyone will say they had someone special. I was fortunate to have him. He was my biggest hero.”

During a Sea Isle Tourism Commission meeting on Thursday, James Bennett, chairman of the commission, said a prayer and summed up the feelings about Mr. D. and how he touched those he met along his life.

“He was a great man and a great asset in the community,” Bennett said.

A viewing for Leonard J. Desiderio will be held on Tuesday, Jan. 18 from 4-8 p.m. at Godfrey Funeral Home in Marmora.

The funeral is Wednesday, Jan. 19, 9-11:30 a.m., with Mass at St. Joseph’s Church in Sea Isle City.

A family photo of the Desiderios with the late Gerard Desiderio Sr. at left. The Desiderios, young Carmela and her cousins, Gerard Jr. and Robert, and Mayor Desiderio. (Photo courtesy of the Desiderio family)