By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Sea Isle City firefighters shook his hand and posed for photos with Frank Edwardi Sr. on June 16 in a heartfelt tribute to the man who was a member of the volunteer fire department for 50 years and served as its chief for nine years.
He was in fading health at the time, but during one particularly poignant moment, Edwardi smiled while telling the firefighters and his friends and family members who were at the ceremony, “You made my day.”
On Friday, Sea Isle honored Edwardi again – this time during a somber final farewell at a funeral service at St. Joseph Catholic Church that was attended by hundreds of mourners and included an outpouring of love from the community.
Edwardi, 77, died Tuesday at Shore Medical Center in Somers Point after battling leukemia and diabetes.
His son, Frank Edwardi Jr., a city councilman in Sea Isle, spoke of his father’s devotion to his family, his commitment to community service and his love for the town where he had lived for more than 50 years.
“He was a great man. He touched a lot of people,” his son said in an interview Saturday.
Edwardi said he received 236 text messages from people expressing their sympathies the day his father died. One text, from someone he did not know, underscored the influence Frank Edwardi Sr. and his family have had on the community
“The text said, ‘You don’t know me, but I’m a better person because of your family,”’ Edwardi said.
The packed funeral service included 700 mourners as well as a procession of fire trucks that rolled down Landis Avenue and stopped in front of the church. Edwardi Sr. was also remembered by the fire department during “the last call,” a tradition that honors deceased firefighters for their service.
“The fire and police departments did a phenomenal job,” Edwardi Jr. said of the funeral.
Mayor Leonard Desiderio has ordered flags to fly at half-staff at city buildings in the elder Edwardi’s honor. The fire station next to City Hall has been draped in black bunting.
Few people had been more important to public safety in Sea Isle in the past 50 years than Frank Edwardi Sr., who joined the city’s volunteer fire department in 1969 and took over as chief in 2011 before retiring in 2019.
His public service also included serving as Sea Isle’s former harbormaster overseeing the municipal marina.
He moved to Sea Isle 53 years ago, leaving a “bad section of South Philadelphia” to make his home at the shore, his son recalled.
“By the time he was 21, he was stabbed three times and shot once,” Edwardi Jr. said of his father’s experience growing up in South Philadelphia.
He survived robberies while running a gas station in Philadelphia. When he would remove his shirt, the scars were visible from his stabbing and gunshot wounds, his son said.
Later in life, Frank Edwardi Sr. would battle health issues, including three bouts with cancer.
“He beat cancer three times. He never complained,” his son said. “He loved his family and had a will to live. He was a great guy.”
After Edwardi Sr. moved to Sea Isle, he became well known in the community as a mechanic and the owner of the former Edwardi’s Sunoco Station, a fixture at the corner of 49th Street and Landis Avenue for 25 years. He would later relocate the gas station to 42nd Place, where it stayed in business for another 15 years, his son said.
Edwardi Sr. also worked as a cook and counterperson for about 25 years at Mike’s Seafood & Dock Restaurant in Sea Isle. Over the years, three generations of the Edwardi family have worked at Mike’s Seafood.
At the June 16 ceremony honoring Edwardi Sr., Mike Monichetti, the owner of Mike’s Seafood, jokingly recalled that Edwardi pretended to be the “Mike” in Mike’s Seafood during good-natured moments with customers.
“The funniest thing is, everybody thought he was Mike. He never told them differently,” Monichetti said.
But Monichetti stressed that Edwardi clearly established his own identity, reputation and accomplishments during all the years he had lived in the resort community.
“I think he has been a friend to everybody in Sea Isle. I don’t think there’s a more well-liked and respected man in Sea Isle,” Monichetti said in an interview on June 16. “He has always been there to lend a hand to anyone in need.”
Frank Edwardi Jr. said that his father will be remembered for “his love for people and his love for Sea Isle City.”
Survivors include his wife, Kathleen, to whom he was married for nearly 55 years, his son, Frank Jr., and his wife, Patricia, his son, Anthony, and his wife, Jackie, and grandchildren Megan, Frankie, Dante, Anthony and Nicholas. He is also survived by his brother, Anthony, and his sisters, Rita, Mary and Terry. He was predeceased by his sister Sue.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to the Sea Isle City Volunteer Fire Department, 233 John F. Kennedy Boulevard, Sea Isle City, N.J., 08243, or to Autism New Jersey, 500 Horizon Drive, Suite 530, Robbinsville, N.J., 08691.