To the casual bystander, or a newer West New York resident who had never attended one of Mario Malavasi’s cookouts or boxcar races, the scene on the corner of 66th street and Palisades Avenue last Friday might have seemed out of place. But to those attending the ceremony renaming that corner after Malavasi, a local business owner, coach, and philanthropist, it just seemed like another day outside Kay’s Corner, the deli that Malavasi ran there for several years.
“If this was Good Friday 40 years ago, we’d all be out here hanging out and playing Wiffle ball,” said Dennis Carnate, a longtime resident. “I’d be eating one of Mario’s meatball sandwiches for 60 cents.”
Mayor Felix Roque and other town officials were on hand to dedicate the street corner, where a new deli has replaced Kay’s, which closed after Malavasi died in July 2011. In addition to running Kay’s with his wife Catherine, Malavasi served as an auxiliary police officer, coached several youth sports teams, and chaired the town’s Democratic Committee.
In 1995, after finding out about a request from a school nurse for used coats, Malavasi started West New York’s own Coats for Kids, which over the years has donated hundreds of coats and other winter clothing items to area children in need.
“My father was a man of the people.” - Maria Malavasi-Quartello
This program identifies citizens that cannot even afford a jacket during the cold months and provides them with warm clothing,” said Malavasi’s grandson, Chad Zanardelli, who teaches at West New York Middle School. “Coats for Kids continues today through my family, and both the schools and businesses in West New York participate and cooperate to provide for citizens in need.”
Malavasi also served in the United States Army during World War II.
Man of the people
Father Joseph of St. Joseph’s of the Palisades gave a benediction, while Maria Malavasi-Quartello, one of Malavasi’s five children, and Zanardelli spoke about Malavasi’s legacy.
“My father was a man of the people, or else you all wouldn’t be here,” said Malavasi-Quartello, who is now married to Mark Quartello. “He loved more than anything to bring people together.”
Malavasi-Quartello recounted the many adventures that she, her siblings, and all their friends had on the corner in the summers and on the holidays of her childhood.
“We made a lot of memories on this corner,” she said.
She spoke about her father’s theory on communities, and reflected on the many ways that he helped throughout his lifetime.
“His motto was that you don’t fix a town block by block, but house by house,” she said.
Zanardelli gave a speech about his grandfather’s ties to the town.
“My grandfather loved this town like it was a living thing,” he said. “Most people would say that the heart of West New York is Bergenline Avenue, but to Mario, it was this corner right here.”
Zanardelli went on to speak about Malavasi’s passion for service.
“It was his main belief, and he treated everyone with respect,” he said. “He always felt that it was an an honor to be able to be there for people in need.”
Carnate serves as a perfect example. As an unemployed teenager in 1975, he walked into Kay’s for a sandwich, and when Malavasi noticed his deflated demeanor, he asked what was wrong.
“I told him I couldn’t find a job,” said Carnate. “Pretty much on the spot, he called [then-Mayor] Anthony DeFino and before I knew it I was working in the maintenance department at the Board of Education.”
Carnate kept the job for 34 years, and said he owed it all to Malavasi.
“That was the kind of person Mario was,” he said.
Through his experiences as a coach, Malavasi came to enjoy mentoring kids, and Kay’s Corner naturally became a common stomping ground for many from around the neighborhood, giving them a safe place to hang out.
“Kay’s Corner was a second home to many kids,” Zanardelli said. “Some of them are [adults] now and are back here today. You know better than I do about the fun that was had on this corner.”
But the fun couldn’t last forever, and when running the business became too much for Malavasi, he closed Kay’s and took a job working as a security guard at Galaxy Towers.
“No matter what profession Mario chose, he was always connected to the people of this community,” said Zanardelli. “My family and I try to honor Mario by living up to his standards of honesty, integrity, and respect to all.”
Roque, for his part, praised Malavasi and said he’d be interested in identifying more citizens with legacies worth recognizing.
“We’re not here today just to name a street, but to forge a memory,” he said. “But we don’t do this for just anyone. Mr. Malavasi was clearly a very special person, I wish I could have known him.”
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org