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Officials honor former LB council aide, citywide volunteer with bench

Councilmember Uranga and locals commemorate the late Jerry Caligiuri with Willow Springs Park landmark

Jerry Caliguiri

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Jerry Caliguiri

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A year after Jerry Caligiuri suddenly died during a Kiwanis Club meeting, city officials and friends gathered at Willow Springs Park Oct. 27 to honor the former Long Beach council aide and citywide volunteer with a bench.

The memorial ceremony, hosted by 7th District Councilmember Roberto Uranga, featured remarks from Kiwanis Club members and Caligiuri’s sisters, who unveiled the bench to those in attendance.

“There is no place I’d rather be than here in Long Beach on a great day like today to honor a person who was such a gem for Long Beach– Jerry Caligiuri,” said Uranga, who met him 30-plus years ago when Caligiuri was volunteering for the Downtown Long Beach Lions Club. “I know we all have our special thoughts, special memories of Jerry of all the times he was here working in council offices, just being a superb and extraordinary volunteer for all the organizations he worked with and all the people that he supported and supported him.”

The bench reads, “In memory of Jerry Caligiuri (Aug. 16, 1955 – Nov. 1, 2017). A friend to the entire community.”

Denny Cristales | Signal Tribune
During a memorial ceremony Oct. 27 at Willow Springs Park, 7th District Councilmember Roberto Uranga, along with other Long Beach residents, commemorated a bench for Jerry Caligiuri, a former council office aide for several districts and a decades-long neighborhood advocate, who died Nov. 1, 2017.

Frances Vess, Caligiuri’s sister, who also spoke on behalf of his other sister Anna, said her brother would have been “honored” and “humbled” by the commemoration.

“I never realized what a loving, caring, generous person my brother is,” she said, as she started to tear up. “I mean, the impact he’s made on so many lives, and the impact he’s made in the city, it just floors me. […] I’m just so proud to be his sister, and I really wish that I could tell him that. But I know that he is present with us today. I know that he is just shining and smiling. It has been a year since we lost him, and it was just a shocking experience. […] This bench is the perfect place for him, because he’s able to see the city that he loved so much and had a passion for.”

Vess mentioned the “unfortunate irony” of Caligiuri’s death coinciding with Game 7 of the 2017 World Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Houston Astros, as he was an avid baseball fan.

As reported last year, Caligiuri died Nov. 1, 2017, when he was rushed to a hospital after feeling ill at a Long Beach Kiwanis Club meeting.

Caligiuri served as an aide for the 7th, 8th and 9th council districts.

Just days before his death, Caligiuri had received the 2017 Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Democrat of the Year Award for the 70th Assembly District, as reported last year when city officials told the Signal Tribune.

Caligiuri was also active in the organization Neighborhoods USA (NUSA), having served on its national board of directors. In May 2016, he traveled to New Orleans with a Long Beach delegation that included NUSA awardee Doug Haubert, who is the city prosecutor for Long Beach, for a NUSA event where Caligiuri was elected to the group’s national governing board.

Caligiuri’s fellow Kiwanis members mentioned at the ceremony Saturday that he played a significant role in their club.

Tony Diaz, member of the Kiwanis Club of Bixby Knolls and north Long Beach, said Caligiuri was an outgoing person who loved to interact with community members.

“Everywhere you went, Jerry knew everybody,” he said. “He knew people. He just wanted to say ‘hi’ and introduce you to people. That’s the way Jerry was– he was just friendly and outgoing. In memory of him, this is a great tribute to Jerry and rightfully deserved.”

Candace Yamagawa, president of the Kiwanis Club Bixby Knolls/north Long Beach, said the club’s plan for its November meeting is to contact its 10 fellow institutions in the region and garner financial support for the memorial bench.

She said it’s “a dream” that Caligiuri was the recipient of a “wonderful naming opportunity.”
Yamagawa also said a Facebook post in January, a few months after his passing, reminded her of Caligiuri.

LBReport.com

“‘If you could speak to anyone in the world, dead or alive, for an hour, who would it be?’” Yamagawa said the Facebook post read. “And, of course, Jerry was my first choice. So, I had a lot of pragmatic questions like, ‘How do I run the club without you?’ But, more, I wanted to know what his vision was in life and what his life mission was. I remember he kept saying, ‘We can talk later. I have such great plans when you become president, and I become lieutenant governor.’ I just want to assure everyone that, if you have a friend who has a vision or a mission, talk to them sooner, not later, because I’ll never really know what Jerry wanted in all aspects.”

Now that time has passed since his death, Yamagawa said her questions are more centered on, “What’s in my heart? What’s in my soul? And would Jerry approve?” She also admitted that, “If he doesn’t approve of some of the things that I do, I’ll just say, ‘Sorry, big guy. I tried.’”

As aforementioned, Caligirui was a fan of baseball. Yamagawa said whenever he would talk about baseball, she would notice a glimmer of love and joy in his heart.

“Even when I saw him at games, he was so absorbed,” she said. “I think perhaps for Jerry– and I can’t speak for him, of course– it was a time that he could just focus on the game and not worry about the myriad of things that occupied his mind; all the things that he wanted to do.”

Among all the memories, Yamagawa said she will always remember Caliguiri as an empathetic person.

“I’ve mentioned in the past that Jerry was quiet and unassuming and got the job done,” she said. “But what I didn’t express since his passing is that he is what I call an ‘empath.’ And I want to be an empath, too. By that I mean is that he has empathy for all, and he does what’s best for all.”

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Officials honor former LB council aide, citywide volunteer with bench