Jumping out of a plane, mentoring younger people and planting flowers are all in a day’s work for Ed DiNunzio.
He’s officially the head of membership for the Port Jefferson Rotary but he has worn many more hats during his years with the service organization, filling in wherever he can to make his community a better place to live.
For selflessly dedicating his endless energy to serving his neighbors, DiNunzio is a Times Beacon Record Newspapers Person of the Year.
One of DiNunzio’s biggest roles is in the Gift of Life program, which started in Suffolk County 40 years ago — but has expanded through Rotary International — and provides lifesaving heart procedures to children around the globe. The Person of the Year has been involved since the beginning, Port Jefferson Rotary member Debbie Engelhardt said, using his skills as a lawyer to help it get organized and off the ground.
Suffolk Rotary clubs have most recently raised funds and brought a 4-year-old girl to Long Island from Kosovo, for a surgery to repair a nickel-sized hole in her heart called an atrial septal defect. Gift of Life also works to provide medical staff in other countries with equipment and training to perform such procedures, so children will not have to travel so far for treatment in the future.
DiNunzio has gone to extremes for the program. He once raised money for Gift of Life by skydiving.
“That was a great thing that he did personally,” fellow Rotarian Dennis Brennan said, noting the physical risk involved in jumping out of a plane for charity. “That was a large sacrifice on his part to do that.”
Each jumper in that fundraising effort was supposed to bring in $1,500 but DiNunzio collected $2,150 for Gift of Life.
“He’s true blue,” said Engelhardt, who is also the director of the Comsewogue Public Library.
“He’s got more energy than basically anybody I know.”
Skydiving isn’t the only way DiNunzio brings in funding for Rotary. Engelhardt said the club holds an annual raffle fundraiser in which each member is expected to sell at least 25 tickets, but “without fail, Ed sells over 200 every year.”
But it’s not just about the money — between attending to his family in Mount Sinai and his law practice in Port Jefferson, DiNunzio also gives his time.
He is heavily involved in the Rotary Youth Exchange program, through which students study abroad and stay with a host family. According to Engelhardt, DiNunzio has lent a hand on an organizational level for the Northeastern region for many years and has opened his home to exchange students from other areas.
Between those kids and others from the Northeast who had life-changing experiences overseas through the program, DiNunzio has made an impact on the lives of numerous young people. Engelhardt explained that a lot of them are now grown adults living all over the world, but whenever they are in the area they look up DiNunzio.
She said Rotary is about using your life to make the world a better place, and DiNunzio does that.
“Everybody’s part of something bigger,” Engelhardt said. “He’s not a child, but he’d be our poster child.”
Brennan described DiNunzio’s meticulous nature, which is obvious when the volunteer manages one of the Rotary’s bank accounts.
“He watches it like a hawk,” Brennan said.
And he is meticulous about his physical fitness too. Brennan said DiNunzio brings an important strength to the Rotary: The club uses a heavy wooden sign when it collects food for donation, and “we depend on Ed” to bring it to the collections because he’s the only one who can lift it on his own.
Once at Camp Pa-Qua-Tuck, a Center Moriches camp for kids with disabilities where the Rotary does cleanups and beautification, a group was planting perennials by a flagpole but the ground was hard, making digging difficult.
“Old Ed, he just kept going at it,” Brennan said. “He never quit.”
Brennan refers to the Person of the Year as “Mr. Rotary” because he has his hand in every program and gives his all.
“When he gets involved with something … he puts his whole self into it and the results are easy to see,” he said. “He’s a very caring person and I think that he’s demonstrated that.”