By John Burton
HIGHLANDS – Officials gathered on Wednesday, May 23, at the bridge connecting Highlands to Sea Bright and dedicate the span in memory of former state Assemblyman Joseph Azzolina.
“He ought to have some symbol that is big for his life,” said state Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos Jr. (R-13), as he joined other members of Monmouth County’s state legislative contingent, county and local officials, and members of the Azzolina family for the bridge’s formal dedication.
Azzolina, who died in April 2010 at the age of 84, had represented Monmouth County as a Republican in the Assembly from 1965-1972 and then the state Senate for two years. He returned to the Assembly from 1986-88, and again from 1992-2006.
Along with his political career he established a string of successful supermarkets, owned the weekly newspaper The Courier, and had a long tenure serving with the U.S. Navy. Azzolina saw activity duty during World War II and in Korea. As a reservist, he saw active duty in 1983 off the coast of Lebanon aboard the battleship U.S.S. New Jersey following the bombing of a U.S. Marine barracks during that nation’s civil war.
“Captain Azzolina is a large reason I am where I am today,” said state Senator Jennifer Beck (R-11). Beck had worked as Azzolina’s legislative director, where he mentored and encouraged Beck’s political goals.
Azzolina was born and raised in Highlands where his parents owned a small grocery and candy store on Miller Street. “He was most proud his father never turning anyone away,” for not being able to pay, especially during the Depression, Beck said.
That was a lesson he learned and practiced, she said.
Beck recalled that shortly before his death Azzolina told her, “Every day, every week, every month, I work to better the people of Monmouth County.”
Azzolina was also instrumental in the state acquiring the retired U.S.S. New Jersey, and worked to transform it into a floating museum.
“It is in Highlands, where he grew up,” U.S. Representative Frank Pallone Jr. (NJ-6), said of the newly named Captain Joseph Azzolina Memorial Bridge. “But it looks out onto the sea, which he loved.”