As the patriarch of one of the oldest and biggest fireworks families in the country, Nunzio Santore has spent much of his life bringing thrills and chills to millions of fans at home and abroad.
But when he’s not lighting up the nighttime sky with powerful blasts of brilliant colors, Santore takes delight in watching his daughters playing hockey.
Despite the acclaim his family has earned from as far away as France and Spain, dad’s pride never swelled to the level it did while watching his two daughters compete at the 2008 USA Hockey National Championships in West Chester, Pa.
"It was so cool, just to be there [at Nationals]. It didn’t matter if the scores were close or not, we were just proud to be playing."
While Madelena (Maddy) and Isebella (Izzy) were representing the Santore family inside the Ice Line Quad rinks, dad, his brother, August, were representing four generations with a spectacular aerial display as part of the opening ceremonies for hundreds of players and their families.
“We were very excited, not only to be watching our girls compete but to also be asked to participate in the opening ceremony,” said Santore.
Maddy, then a forward with the New Jersey Rockets 19 & Under team based in Bridgewater, N.J., is now a freshman at Rutgers University and plays on the women’s club team. Izzy plays goalie for the Rockets 16 & Under squad. Neither team advanced beyond the first round, yet for the sisters, being at Nationals was about more than just wins and losses.
“It was so cool, just to be there,” Izzy said. “It didn’t matter if the scores were close or not, we were just proud to be playing.”
Added Maddy, “Being at Nationals was such an experience. We felt we accomplished a lot.”
Growing up in the business of fireworks displays and manufacturing, the girls were the envy of many of their friends who wished their families “had a job like that.”
Living on subdivided land on the 30-acre factory property in Millington, N.J., the backyard was the Santore’s research and development department. Neighbors and friends would offer their opinion about the latest colors and special effects.
Oldest daughter Teresa, who is now a sophomore on the women’s hockey team at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., recalls the times she and her dad would go back to the factory at night and review videotape of their shows until the early morning hours.
“Our dad has always worked so hard,” she said. “And there are so many great stories.”
For Maddy, who like her sisters and brother have apprenticed in various jobs for the company, putting in the hours and time before a July 4th celebration was so worth it.
“After the craziness of the day is over, all of the smiles on the faces of people watching, the ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs,’ we would all gather as a family in the backyard and be together to talk,” she said.
One of the highlights for the family is the annual July 16 Festival of Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Berkeley Heights, N.J., a 90-year-old Italian festival. Among the shows’ favorite daytime fireworks displays are Superman, Spiderman and parachutes, which are made by Izzy.
In addition to thrilling fans close to home, the family’s manufacturing division, Garden State Pyro, supplies fireworks displays to The Walt Disney Company, among others.
For more on the internationally renowned Garden State Fireworks, go to gardenstatefireworks.com.
According to mom Judi, Nunzio still has his grandfather’s formula book, which dates back more than 100 years. It’s not surprising some of the pages are falling apart.
“It’s under lock and key,” she said, “but we can’t tell you where.” Literally.
While the family can trace its fireworks history back to the 1890s, they are hard pressed to remember when the hockey bug first bit.
“I don’t really know why or where their love for the game came from, but [older brother] Bryan definitely helped,” said mom.
“Once you’re hooked on hockey, it will always be a part of your life. The key is to always keep it fun.”
It looks like the fun will keep on coming as 7-year-old Nicholas is following in Izzy’s footsteps as a goalie with his Mite team.
Judging from the talents of the Santore’s, keep your eyes on the sky, and on the ice, for the next generation.