Joseph John Castanza

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Waterford - Dr. Joseph John Castanza, 96, of Waterford, died peacefully at home on Saturday, July 7, 2012.

The youngest of five children of Domenic Castanza and Antoinette (Longo) Castanza, he was born in the family home on Woodbridge St. in New London, on March 18, 1916.

Joe is survived by his daughter, Catherine "Cathy" Castanza Elliott and son-in-law, James Elliott, of East Lyme and grandchildren, Jesse Martin, Elliott and Lauren Sarah Elliott; son, Gregory Morse Castanza and daughter-in-law, Melinda Lewis Castanza, of Glastonbury, and grandchildren, Carter Morse Castanza and Colton Lewis Castanza; and sister-in-law, Elizabeth "Betty" Vanderhoef Morse Baptie of North Haven.

He was predeceased by his wife of 60 years, Sarah "Sally" Wyman Morse Castanza; sisters, Camilla (Castanza) Cutone and Nellie (Castanza) Farrow; and brothers Anthony Castanza and John Castanza.

Joe graduated from St. Mary's Elementary School in 1929 and Chapman Technical High School in New London in 1933. His love of music began with violin lessons as a fourth-grader. He won a talent show at the Empire Theater, performing "O Solo Mio" and earning a five-dollar prize. Joe formed a band during high school and played professionally while also working in his brother Tony's auto repair shop.

He enrolled at the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and performed as a violinist in the university's symphony orchestra. Returning home to New London in 1935, he worked as a shipping clerk, bought a saxophone at a local pawnshop and joined a local big band as tenor sax player. Prior to the hurricane of 1938, the Joe Castanza Orchestra performed regularly at Danceland Ocean Beach ballroom in New London.

In 1939, Joe resumed his university studies at Alabama, joined the marching band and played clarinet and tenor sax in a dance band. He applied to dental school at Harvard, was accepted, and earned a Kellogg Foundation scholarship. In between laboratory and dental clinic assignments, Joe traveled by train to visit family and friends in New London and play in Sunday jam sessions at the Jazz Club at the Colonial Inn in East Lyme.

As World War II approached, Joe enlisted in the Army Specialized Training Program, Enlisted Reserve Corps, and was called into active duty in 1943. Upon graduation from Harvard University Dental School in March 1944, he went to basic training at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. As a 1st lieutenant he was assigned to dental clinics at Camp Crowder, Missouri; Fort Lewis, Washington; Drew Field, Florida; and Avon Park Air Base, Florida.

One month after Germany's surrender on May 8, 1945 ended the war in Europe, Joe received orders to board a troop ship to the Philippines where his unit would build a landing strip and medical dispensary. Promoted to captain, he supervised construction of a house for medical staff, performed dental extractions and led the band of the 1865th Engineer Aviation Battallion, responsible for providing troop entertainment and raising morale.

Following Japan's surrender on Aug. 15, 1945, Joe was assigned to the 6th Air Service Group, 85th Fighter Wing. The base near Manila was equipped with a mobile dental unit where he performed extractions for prisoners from a nearby Japanese POW camp. Joe completed his military service in 1946, with a promotion to major in the Army Dental Corps.

In Jan. of 1947 he established his own dental practice, with his first office on Federal St. in New London. A first date with Sally at the Lighthouse Inn led to their engagement in April 1951 and wedding at Pequot Chapel four months later.

Joe was active in politics, education and civic affairs. Elected four times to the New London Board of Education, he served twice as president. He was a past chairman and commissioner of the Waterford Parks and Recreation Commission, past president and member of New London Country Club, and a longtime member of the New London Kiwanis and Waterford Rotary Clubs. He served as a trustee of the Eugene O'Neill Theater Center and of the Garde Arts Center. For many years, Joe was musical director of the High Fever Follies fundraiser for Lawrence & Memorial Hospital.

After a term as president of the New London County Dental Society, Joe was elected president of the Connecticut State Dental Association. He was instrumental in Connecticut becoming the first state to require fluoridation of the water supply in communities with population of 20,000 or more. After forty years practicing dentistry in New London and Waterford, Joe retired in 1986.

He and Sally traveled to 50 countries and 15 islands. Their names are engraved on a wrought iron bench at Harkness Memorial State Park, along with a sycamore maple tree, purchased by friends for the Castanza's 50th wedding anniversary. Joe will be deeply missed by his family and friends.

His ashes will be interred in the family mausoleum at Bath, Maine. Calling hours are from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 31, at Thomas L. Neilan Funeral Home, 12 Ocean Ave., New London. In keeping with Joe's wishes, a celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Aug. 1, at St. James Episcopal Church, Federal St., New London.

In lieu of flowers, donations are suggested to Hospice Southeastern Connecticut and the Garde Arts Center.

Online condolences may be expressed at

The Thomas L. Neilan & Sons Funeral Home, 12 Ocean Avenue, New London is assisting the family with the arrangments.
Funeral Home
Thomas L. Neilan & Sons Funeral Home
12 Ocean Avenue New London, CT 06320
(860) 443-1871
Funeral Home Details
Published in The Day on July 14, 2012
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