Daniel ‘Danny’ Charles Cestaro, a founder of the Morris Park Community Association, passed away peacefully in his Morris Park home on Tuesday, December 17 alongside family at the age of 89.
According to his daughter, Jaclyn DeBellis, Cestaro, the son of Italian immigrants, was born on Bogart Avenue in Morris Park.
Cestaro attended P.S. 83 as a young child and attended Christopher Columbus High School.
He enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War and worked in telegraph communications.
After the service, he joined his father in the furniture repair business, along with his brother, on Westchester Avenue.
After his father’s death, he and his brother moved the furniture store to Morris Park Avenue, one block away from P.S. 83, where it remained for approximately 60 years until its closing in 2010.
“A lot of people would come into the furniture store just to talk to him,” DeBellis said. “There was one crossing guard from the corner who he always welcomed to stay inside the store on really cold or hot days.”
DeBellis said the family’s home during her youth always had an open door policy for guests whether it was former Senator Jeff Klein or someone who needed a place to stay.
“He helped so many people in some many different ways,” DeBellis said. “He even taught (one person) to read and write so they could get a job.”
Cestaro was quite the multi-faceted individual: he was an amateur boxer that participated in the Golden Gloves matches, and also a skilled clarinet player and jazz enthusiast.
As crime escalated around Morris Park in the early 70s, Cestaro stepped up to the plate and founded the Morris Park Association to keep the neighborhood safe and sound in 1973.
Cestaro gathered a core of concerned individuals that included Al D’Angelo, Frank Agovino and the late Dominic Castore and Rocco Miano, with the help of local elected officials, started a neighborhood civilian patrol in the early morning hours to keep the residents safe from crime.
According to D’Angelo and Agovino, the association then had about 2,500 dues-paying members. In those days membership cost $10 and $7 for senior citizens.
“He started something from nothing and it proved to be one of the most viable organizations in the city,” current Morris Park Community Association president D’Angelo said. “We believed in his ways and he was a good organizer.”
Current first vice president Frank Agovino said the 46-year-old organization would not exist without Cestaro’s early leadership.
“He was the information highway back then,” Agovino said.
D’Angelo and Agovino reflected that the association’s beginning coincided with the Son of Sam’s reign of terror. The serial killer’s first murder occurred in nearby Pelham Bay.
Cestaro not only was the founder of the Morris Park Association, but also contributed to the start-ups of other neighborhood associations such as the Allerton Avenue Homeowners and Tenants Association, Pelham Parkway Community Association, Pelham Bay Association and Zerega Community Association.
According to his daughter, he was also one of the original founders of the Morris Park Columbus Day parade as well as the home school association for St. Francis Xavier.
He also served on the board of trustees for Jacobi Hospital and Westchester Square Hospital for more than 30 years.
While Cestaro ran his furniture store on weekends he also was employed as a building inspector for the city of New York. He retired from the city job in 2000 at the age of 70.
“He had a vast knowledge about the city and made an effort to join different boards like the community board, the hospital boards, the precinct council, to make sure (the community) had a say,” Agovino said. “That was important.”
Even with all his community involvement, Jaclyn said her father always had time for them and kept a running tradition of the Sunday family dinner, up to his last living moments.
Cestro is survived by his wife, Linda, two daughters, Jaclyn and Melissa, and four grandchildren.