Victor B. Villalta, a Democrat who for the most part of the last decade served Harrison as Second Ward councilman, died Tuesday, May 24.
He was 67.
Villalta was born in Lima, Peru, on March 12, 1949, and his family came to the United States in 1964 when he was just 14. They chose Harrison as their home — and he’d go on to spend the rest of his life here.
In 1966, he was a player on the Harrison High School state soccer championship team.
A year later, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. But it wasn’t easy for Villalta to get into the Corps at first.
He told The Observer a story several years ago of how he and his best friend wanted to enlist together — but his friend was already 18, and he was still 17, a year younger than the minimum age for enlisting.
“Me and my buddy Mickey Silver went over to Newark to enlist, but you had to be 18 to do that,” Villalta told The Observer in 2012. “Mickey was 18, but I was 17. So I was still a few months short of 18.”
But the recruiter said parental consent would be good enough for him to join the Marines short of turning 18. Since his father’s English wasn’t up to par, Victor brought the forms to his dad and told him he was signing up for soccer camp.
His dad fell for it — Villalta brought the forms back to Newark — and he was on his way to basic training a short time later.
And then he’d go on to Vietnam.
But before heading to Vietnam and after he completed his basic training, Villalta was first sent to Okinawa, Japan, for two weeks.
When he was finally deployed to Vietnam, he remained for 13 consecutive months before being honorably discharged. He earned a Bronze Star with “V” for valor, a Purple Heart for being injured in action and a Good Conduct Medal, among many other awards.
Villalta’s grandson, Ryan, also became a Marine.
It was when Villalta was chosen as grand marshal of the 37th Hispanic State Parade of New Jersey in West New York and North Bergen that he shared these stories. He dedicated that honor to all Latinos who served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
As a civilian, Villalta worked for Keystone Automotive Industries for 33 years, holding several positions from driver to working his way up to general manager. He also worked for the Passaic Valley Sewerage Commission for 10 years, retiring in 2014.
Service to Harrison & the community
Villalta was first elected to the Harrison Town Council in 2003, but he lost his seat in a hotly contested 2007 election to Steve McCormick by a razor-thin margin. But just four years later, in 2011, he’d return to the council after soundly defeating the wife of the man who beat him four years earlier — Maria McCormick.
Current Third Ward Councilman Larry Bennett knew Villalta from the day he moved to Harrison from Lima. They were friends for more than 50 years.
Bennett says he feels the loss of his dear friend and colleague more than he could properly describe.
“We were friends for that long — from the time he moved to Harrison from Peru to his last day,” Bennett said. “We so often relied on each other. If either of us needed to get something done, we knew we could rely on each other. Even when he was sick — he’d call me because he wanted to get something done for others.
“On the council, he was one who always put others before self. He was always very supportive of what we were doing for the town.
“His kids and his family were like my own family. I’m honored to be as close as I am with his whole family. Fifty years is a long time — I’m going to miss him dearly.”
In 2012, Villalta represented Harrison among municipal honorees selected by Hudson County as Senior Citizens of the Year.
In his lifetime, Villalta was extremely active as a member of the West Hudson Marine Corps League Detachment in Kearny, Harrison’s VFW Post 340, Harrison’s American Legion Post, Harrison/East Newark Elks and Veteran’s Liaison for the Town of Harrison. He was the founder and past president of the Harrison Peruvian United Association. He was also past president of the Harrison Soccer Club. He was also a member of the Vietnam Veterans of America.
In 2006, he was the grand marshal of the Harrison/Kearny Peruvian Parade.
A man of the people
When news of Villalta’s death began to spread last week, many Harrisonians turned to social media to grieve and write tributes for their fallen friend and hero.
“Great man. A huge loss for Harrison,” wrote Vincent Winkleblech. “[He] restored my faith in politicians. Leatherneck in Vietnam. This generation can take a few pages of his book. Be at peace friend.”
Enrique Pinas also wrote a brief tribute.
“Loved, respected, admired and forever remembered,” Pinas wrote. “Victor, thanks for everything you did to inspire us.”
Villalta is survived by his wife Ele, his son Victor and daughters Victoria (Sal Ragusa), Lisa (Jason Drennan) and Dina (Louis Mastellone). He is also survived by his grandsons Ryan, Victor, Jordan, Dylan and Vincent Villalta and J.J. Drennan; his sister Zenaida Untiveros (Jorge); and brothers Roger Villavicencio (Ana) and Enrique Sanchez (Solidad).
He was predeceased by his parents Victor M. and Dina Villalta. He is also survived by many nieces and nephews; Janet and Gene Moscinski; and brother-in-law Norman Simpson.
The family requests donations be made to the Harrison Education Foundation, 501 Hamilton St., Harrison, N.J. 07029 in Victor’s memory.
Mulligan Funeral Home, Harrison, was in charge of arrangements. Messages of condolence may be left at www.mulliganfh.com.
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Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.