NORTH BRUNSWICK – One of seven children, Joseph Battaglia remembers traveling back to his grandfather Gaetano Bastardi’s house in New York after his family moved to North Brunswick when he was a child, visiting his relatives and feasting all day.
“You don’t realize it at the time, but those were the best times,” he said.
Fast-forward, and Battaglia tries to keep those traditions alive by hosting Italian Day every year, first starting in his backyard and now big enough to be held in a clubhouse. There is Italian food, dancing and singing for his siblings, nieces and nephews.
“It’s a lot of fun. Everybody enjoys it,” he said.
That is just one way in which Battaglia represents his Italian heritage, which was celebrated during the Italian American Social Club of North Brunswick’s Columbus Day Ball on Oct. 5.
“It’s nice to be recognized in any way, shape or form, but the fact that I’m recognized as an Italian American means even more,” he said. “I was honored. I was flattered. There were some heavy hitters in the past,” he said, noting that his mother Mary was treated like the “belle of the ball.”
Battaglia said he has a long history with the Puleio family, which heads the Italian American Social Club on Cozzens Lane, having worked with them for years.
“We thought he deserved the honor because he was a patrolman and then chief,” Anthony Puleio said.
Born and raised in North Brunswick, Battaglia began working for the North Brunswick Police Department in 1986. He was promoted to sergeant in 2003, lieutenant in 2005 and then acting deputy chief in 2007; at that time, he took the promotional exam for captain and placed No. 1. In 2009, he was named deputy chief.
“I grew up here. I always wanted to be a police officer from the time I was a kid. Everyone says that, but it really was a calling,” he said of becoming the first officer in his family.
He had been working as a computer operator at Fidelity at the time, which was headquartered in North Brunswick, while taking police exams in several towns. He said he finally scored high enough to join North Brunswick.
Taking a pay cut to join the force, he said, “I would’ve done the job for free back then.”
Contact Jennifer Amato at firstname.lastname@example.org.