NORRISTOWN – When news spread of the Tuesday morning passing of Norristown icon Frank “Hank Cisco” Ciaccio, there was not a great deal of shock.
The former boxer and later referee, Cisco went the distance in his battle with cancer before passing away, peacefully, around 5 a.m. He was 96.
The viewing is set for this Friday, 8:30 a.m. to noon, at Holy Saviour Church, followed by a Mass to be celebrated by Msgr. Charles L. Sangermano (arrangements by Volpe Funeral Home, volpefh.com).
A family statement read: “You have inspired us all to never give up the fight in the dressing room and to come out fighting. We promise to always fight the fight like you did. You will always be the ‘Rock’ of our family, and will miss you dearly.”
The same sense of sadness, the sense of loss, was felt in the Greater Norristown community that he loved and that loved him back.
So much better known by his alias, or just Rock, that his birth name may not have even been common knowledge. Born in Brooklyn in 1923, New York Cisco made Norristown his home.
A veteran of World War II, he was a Norristown police officer and then county detective. He pioneered the Police Athletic League’s boxing program, which later earned him a place in the Montgomery County Coaches Hall of Fame.
He also led the drive to build a monument in honor of Christopher Columbus in the community, and received a plaque for his efforts.
While Cisco counted the likes of former Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo among his friends, he was just as comfortable working with children in his program of school crossing guards.
The list of those Cisco influenced in a positive way is long, reading like a roll call in the world of law enforcement and beyond.
“Hank was a great American success story,” said former Norristown Chief of Police Russell J. Bono, who later served a stint as Montgomery County Sheriff. “He was a man of humble beginnings who found a way to fight his way to the top.
“His dedication to his God, his family, and his community led him to be able to walk with the most successful men and women of our age while never forgetting those less fortunate.”
Bono is not sure where he would be today without the mentorship he received from Cisco.
And he knows he is not alone.
“He was a mentor to me and thousands of others,” he continued. “I was fortunate to meet Hank when I was a Holy Saviour school safety. I never realized that someday I would work for him when I was a rookie Norristown police officer and he was a Sergeant. I always valued his advice then, and throughout my career.”
Cisco was a father of three daughters (Joanne, Carol and Mary), a stepson (Michael Donofrio), a grandfather to four and a great grandfather to two.
But he had Norristown so woven into his DNA that he considered all like family.
“He was Norristown's greatest cheerleader and committed to building community,” said John Doyle, who worked closely with Cisco on several projects around town, mostly notably a long-running cable access talk show. “He was opinionated. He did things the way he wanted, and made things happen that he cared about, with an intensity that I can't believe was coming from an 85- to 95-year-old man.
“There is a big gap in my life with his passing.”
Those sentiments were echoed by Rochelle Culbreath, the former president of Norristown Council who appointed Cisco as Ambassador.
“I can’t stop crying,” she said. “Hank was on the police force with my grandfather. He knew both my great-grandfather and grandmother. Losing him is like losing the only connection to old Norristown and my family.”
All agree that Cisco’s energy was drawn from his positive outlook – one he maintained even after his wife, Dolores, passed away in the fall of 2015.
Known to break into his theme song, “Que Sera, Sera” at the drop of a hat, his outlook was often communicated through his long list of sayings on life and how best to live it.
When newcomers came into the town, he was the first to embrace them and share not only his homespun wisdom, but what the town had to offer.
This is what Mike Morsch remembers most when he came to Norristown in 2000 as the editor of The Times Herald.
He recalled: “I was there just a few weeks when he walked into the office and introduced himself and said, ‘If you want to walk on water you gotta know where the rocks are.’ I said, ‘What does that mean?’ He said the editor had to get out into the community and meet people. And for the next several months, he and I would have lunch a couple of times a week in and around Norristown. He'd introduce me to people and we'd sit and talk with the members of the community. It was invaluable experience for the editor of a local newspaper.”
Cisco’s television show was on NASDtv, the episodes of which can be seen in “syndication” on YouTube. Past episodes are now also running around the clock, in honor of Cisco, on the channel.
Doyle has been the point man of the student-run program since Cisco interviewed Japanese police officer back in 1997.
While Cisco often wondered off-script, his wit and charm on what came to be known for more than two decades as the “Hank Cisco Show” was hard to deny.
“This is hard,” said Doyle. “If feels too big to comment on. Hank was a friend, father figure and supporter of NASDtv. He took time to care for every kid who shot the show each week and brought them in contact with astounding guests from the community.
“I am not sure people can really understand his impact or his worth.”
What Doyle noticed in Cisco was change over the years, as he developed a true understanding of different generations and cultures, while hosting his show.
“He touched those kids’ lives, and they touched him,” added Doyle. “There was hardly a show where he didn't say something wacky but, underneath the craziness, he offered a platform for hundreds of people to share their events and their information with Norristown and the world.”
It was all just an extension of someone who worked tirelessly, sunup to sundown, for a better Norristown.
“There will never be another community leader like Hank,” Bono continued. “His love for Norristown is second only to his love of family and life. I'm sure he has met his heavenly reward and I can hear him saying. ‘Hey Rock, I have some great ideas of how we can save many more souls. I can serve as your Ambassador.’
“Rest in peace, Hank.”