The smiles of children at Christmas as they toured the elaborate Winter Wonderland holiday displays are one of the legacies left behind by Vito Castoro.
So, too, are his devotion to his family, the Hopatcong Business Association, a record of public and private service to the lakeside borough, and the drive and confident spirit the Castoro brought to everything he did.
Castoro, 79, died Thursday at St. Clare’s Hospital in Dover. He was born in Brooklyn and lived in Hopatcong for 46 years. He served on the Hopatcong Town Council from 1998 to 2000 and was an active member of the Hopatcong Business League.
He was the owner and operator of Sign Art Graphics in Hopatcong.
“He wanted to build community spirit in a small town," said Mayor Sylvia Petillo. “This is tragic. So unexpected.”
Councilman John Young said, “He left his mark on town government and the business community. It is a big loss.”
Councilman Michael Francis said, “He is irreplaceable. This is just sinking in. It is a terrible loss.”
Francis said Castoro was instrumental the development of Modick Park and Hudson Glen, a borough park to which he dedicated many hours and funds, was a key supporter of Hopatcong Days, an annual festival, and the driving force behind the annual Christmas display at borough hall.
“He was that kind of person,” Francis said. “He was the go-to person."
Petillo said Castoro was very generous toward the town, putting up his own funds when necessary or, as with the borough’s public signs, donating them after crafting them at his sign shop.
Bob Winegar, current president of the business association, said Castoro’s leadership brought the business community together at a time when in-fighting could have caused greater splits.
“He was the important person in town,” Winegar said. “He wanted things to work.”
As a founder of what was then the Hopatcong Business League, Castoro got the businesses to work together the address key issues, such as trash collection, he said.
He also helped the community focus on activities for the region’s children.
The Christmas displays, the Halloween parade, and other events were all designed to bring the community together for the children, and got the business owners to focus on common success, he said.
Councilman Howard Baker said Castoro, “bought that optimistic entrepreneurial vision of the future. He was always trying to take things better.”
Petillo said Castoro was always pushing to make things bigger and better.
Hopatcong Days are a perfect example, she said.
The first annual event was held five years ago, she said, and it was a small event. But Castoro insisted it would become bigger. This year more than 2,000 people showed up along with the borough’s business community and civic groups, she said.
“This year Vito finally said, ‘I think we got it right,’ " Petillo said.
The Christmas display was a fantasy land, Petillo said.
Young said that Castoro reached out to all the area schools to make sure all the children knew about the holiday displays.
Borough officials also remembered Castoro as a friend.
“As a a friend there was no one better,” Francis said. “He was a friend to the borough and personally. If you came to him with a problem, he’d ask what he could do to help. Vito was a good person. The loss is beyond words.”
Young said, “He was at the center of so much, but he never wanted the attention. That’s the way he wanted it. He was a humble guy who wanted to help people.”
Petillo remembers his tenderness.
“I’ll remember how he was tender and loving in everything that he did, for the town, his church and his family,” she said.
Castoro served in the U.S. Army from 1953-1955 and was the recipient of the National Defense Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Millie; a son Michael Castoro; and a daughter Diane Lounsbery.
Relatives and friends are respectfully invited to a celebration of his life from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at the Leber-Lakeside Funeral Home in Landing.
A Liturgy of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. Jude's Roman Catholic Church in Hopatcong. Burial will follow at Stanhope Union Cemetery in Mount Olive Township.