Though they weren’t biological— Westchester’s legendary ice cream man Joseph “Joe” Villardi considered those he sold ice cream to over the last 66 years to be children of his own.
“No matter how young or old, they were his children on the streets,” said Villardi’s niece Kim Krycerick Herman. “That was his family.”
Saying Goodbye to a Local Icon
Villardi, a Pelham resident known to most as “Good Humor Joe”, was the beloved ice cream man to generations and generations of White Plains and Greenburgh families. Those families were heartbroken over the news of the 82-year-old’s death Monday morning.
"Joe was a fixture of White Plains life for more than 30 years,” said White Plains Mayor Tom Roach. “He was known and loved by children and adults alike and will be missed. People like Joe represent the very fabric of a community, woven into many lives through their active presence and involvement in community life, and a big part of what makes a community unique and special."
He is believed to be the longest serving Good Humor Man in the country.
This will be the first summer in decades you won’t hear the bell from Villardi’s Good Humor truck or his hearty shout of “Ice Cream” in city streets. Many have said that summer in White Plains may never be the same, but find comfort in knowing that Joe was doing what he loved until the day he died.
“I saw Joe Sunday and he asked me to pray for him,” said , on White Plains Patch. “I believe he knew that would be his last day doing what he loved doing for decades, serving great ice cream with a smile and a whole lot of love. My mom, aunt, daughter and of course myself will miss him dearly! God has brought a great man home to rest.”
Herman, whose father Edward Krycerick Sr. served in the Korean War with Villardi and was best friends with him since kindergarten, said he was having asthma problems that he was hospitalized for April. Many weren't convinced of Villardi's passing as there was a false alarm, reported by White Plains Patch, in March.
Villardi, who never married or had children, asked his brother Anthony “Tony” Villardi around 1 a.m. on Monday to be taken to the hospital. His brother, who is Villardi's last surviving blood relative, called 9-11, however medical personnel weren’t able to revive Villardi.
Services will be held at from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. and at 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday, June 15. The funeral mass will be held at in Pelham at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 16.
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The Legacy of Good Humor Joe
Villardi—who had told people he was 39-years-old since about 1999— starting serving ice cream out of a pushcart in Yankee Stadium after high school in 1946. From April to October, Villardi—who spent the winter months at his home in Florida—would be out in his truck spreading smiles and selling frozen treats seven days a week, unless of course it was raining.
“No matter what he was going through in his life he had to get out there to serve his ice cream, and we all respected that,” said Herman. “We planned holidays, birthdays and weddings around Uncle Joe serving ice cream.”
Villardi—who called everyone “honey” or “sweetheart”—did have rules: look both ways before crossing, no cursing, and you had to say please and thank you. Violators could be banned from the truck.
“He taught all the kids respect and about money,” said Herman, a Patterson resident. “If they didn’t know, he took time to teach them how to count money and how to be people. That’s his greatest legacy.”
Villardi always went out of his way to please his customers—by making doorstep deliveries, ordering special ice cream for those who were diabetic, or spotting children who were short on money.
“A lot of his kids were underprivileged children—he knew the struggles that they had and he believed that by teaching them respect they would respect themselves and go out there into the world and pay it forward,” said Herman. “That was his whole big thing.”
Herman said that this was the first year that Villardi gave serious thought to retiring and selling his route—as he was having problems with his health and his truck, that recently had to be towed.
“He just couldn’t do it, because of his kids,” said Herman. “He said his kids needed him this summer. ‘How can I let my kids down?’”
Herman said Villardi was delighted and humbled by the Facebook page, “We Love Joe the Good Humor Man” created in his honor, and was taking classes to learn how to use a laptop computer. Since the legend’s passing, hundreds of his fans have showed an outpouring of love and thanks for the impact Villardi made in their lives.
However, Villardi’s customers meant as much to him, as he did to them.
“I’d like to say thank you to everybody for making his life happy, because he was happy,” said Herman. “He truly enjoyed his life. He enjoyed every single day, every single moment on that truck. His customers meant so much to him—they fulfilled his life.”