Mike Zullo of West Hartford passed away on Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017, at the age of 54.
By Tom Hickey and Joy Taylor
It’s hard to think of Mike Zullo without a smile on your face. A consummate joker, Mike was a fun and funny guy to be around, was often surrounded by friends and family, and was known as “Uncle” Mike not only to his cherished nieces Kristina and Sabrina, but to almost anyone he coached or crossed paths with in his 54 years in West Hartford.
As we sat down with Mike’s sister Toni Carreira, brother-in-law Paul, and nieces Kristina and Sabrina, we celebrated Mike’s life and we found ourselves laughing through our tears, while reminiscing about times spent with Mike.
When Kristina and Sabrina attended Saint Brigid School in West Hartford, Mike became heavily involved with FUNraising! Yes, FUNraising, not just regular fundraising since everything Mike did involved “fun” and always raised money for the causes he held close to his heart.
Mike was an avid golfer and the mastermind behind the Saint Brigid School’s annual golf tournament which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary.
He was passionate about giving back to his community and in addition to the golf tournament, Mike started a pasta supper at the school. Paul recalled all the men getting together on the Friday night before the supper to cook pasta and mix the sauce. Of course, in the spirit of family, the meatballs were all homemade by Mike’s mother, Fiorinda.
The homemade wine was something special as well, and that’s where Mike and his dad Paolo came in. They would always share with the entire community.
Mike and his dad owned and operated Zullo Landscaping in West Hartford. Mike’s father passed away five years ago. His mom still lives in Elmwood.
“Mike was all basketball,” commented his brother-in-law, Paul, and when he wasn’t involved with his nieces playing basketball at Saint Brigid he also ran the West Hartford Youth Basketball League (WHYBL) for the Town of West Hartford.
Mark Jamin, current president of WHYBL and a dear friend Mike’s, stated that Mike was heavily involved, wearing multiple hats for over 20 years. His duties included being a past president while coaching multiple teams.
Mike was not only involved in the WHYBL but also the travel league. Mike sat on the board for the All Sports Council and served as president for years. He donated so much time to the youth of West Hartford that no one could ever add up the hours.
If a kid didn’t have money to pay-to-play for the league, he or she would still be welcomed by Mike. He never turned anyone away.
“He would find the money through scholarships or out of his own pocket,” Jamin said. Mike had a heart of gold, Jamin said, which carried over to any and all charities he would support in town including UNICO, the Mayor’s Charity Ball, YMCA, and countless other organizations.
In addition to coaching, running charity events, operating his own business, and playing lots of golf, Mike decided to make a run for a seat on the West Hartford Town Council in 2005. Friends may remember his catchy campaign slogan: “His roots lie in West Hartford” – playing off his landscaping business as well as his love for the town.
Mike’s sister Toni says her relationship with Mike was no different than most brother-sister connections, complete with banter and teasing. But she said of her brother, “Mike made everybody better, in a way. Mike was a great brother who adored his nieces and would do anything for them or anyone for that matter.”
In a Facebook tribute to Mike one of his former team-members, Garrett Hickey, said:
“The man who pushed me when I was in middle school to become the best player I could be … The reason that I wanted to be a basketball coach … is because of this man Mike Zullo better known to me a ‘Coach’ or ‘Uncle Mike.”’Even though it was about 10 years ago, every time I saw him, he would tell everyone about the time I faked an injury to get out of running at practice.
“I was floored when I heard the news. He impacted so many lives including my own. I know I am a better person and man today because he influenced me as I grew up. I am so glad I got to see him a few weeks back. He would have absolutely made fun of me for crying when I heard the news but I wouldn’t have it any other way. He was a great Coach and even better guy. Love you Coach Zullo, RIP!”
Mike passed away on Sunday after a long illness and was surrounded by his family and friends at Saint Francis Hospital. During his seven-year battle with the complications of diabetes, “Uncle Mike fought the fight,” his niece Kristina said. He rarely gave up hope and was looking forward to the next golf tournament with optimism, but ultimately his hope wasn’t enough.
Paul’s brother, Tony Carreira (not to be confused with Mike’s sister, Toni) put it beautifully when asked what Mike meant to him: “We may give without loving, but we cannot love without giving.”
Calling hours will be Friday, Aug. 18, from 4-8 p.m. at Sheehan-Hilborn-Breen Funeral Home, 1084 New Britain Ave., West Hartford. Funeral procession will be Saturday, Aug. 19, at 10:15 a.m. from the funeral home followed by a mass of Christian Burial, 11 a.m. at St. Mark the Evangelist Church 467 South Quaker Ln., West Hartford. Burial will be private. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Mike Zullo Scholarship Award for West Hartford Youth Basketball at www.whybl.org. Online condolences may be made at www.SheehanHilbornBreen.com.
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