John Zornow was honored by the Newark Chamber of Commerce as the Citizen of the Year. The award, known as the Alex Eligh Service Award, is given to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the community during the past year and who is dedicated to family, community and business and who participates in Newark’s community activities.
His grandpa Flynn would always knock twice on the wall and then say, “You know, my boy ...” whenever he was about to share a tidbit of history with his grandson.
John Zornow was lucky enough to have his grandfather living with his family as he grew up in Newark, living next door to Perkins Park.
“It was the greatest place to pretend,” he said of the park where he spent much of his youth creating adventures and acting the hero as little boys do.
When John was just 6, his grandpa Flynn retired and the pair “became buddies” going everywhere together. They’d drive around the village and his grandpa would show him places and tell him stories about what once was.
“He didn’t think I was listening, but I remember everything,” John recalled with a curt nod and a smile. “Memories of the heart is what it is.”
Like the time they cruised past where the old Rose City Drive-in is located today. Knock, knock, and Grandpa Flynn said, “You know, my boy,” in 1903, the property was home to a farm where a case of hoof and mouth disease broke out. They had to destroy all the cows and they buried them right there on that property. Grandpa Flynn said sure as day someday they’d build something there and find all those bones. And sure enough that’s exactly what happened, John said.
His grandfather was born in 1877 and lived to age 90. He helped shape who John is today, imparting a wealth of knowledge that John has never forgotten and continues to add to every day.
“That’s been my passion,” he said. “I enjoy history, although I didn’t know I enjoyed it at first. I was born into it though.”
At the age of 69, just a few weeks away from his 70th birthday, John was honored by the Newark Chamber of Commerce as the Citizen of the Year. The award, known as the Alex Eligh Service Award, is given to an individual who has made a significant contribution to the community during the past year and who is dedicated to family, community and business and who participates in Newark’s community activities. Award presenter and fellow Village Trustee Kurt Werts grew up with John, and together they spent many summers in Perkins Park. He, too, noted the love of history John’s grandfather cultivated in his grandson.
John used to go in and talk to fourth grade classes, telling them stories about local history much the way his grandpa did with him. One story always in demand was about the alligator in the creek. When John was just a boy, baby alligators could be purchased for just $2. An older boy down the way had one and John and his friends went one day to see how much the reptile had grown. But the gator was gone, and when asked where it went, the boy told them he let it go in the creek.
“We didn’t go near that creek for two years,” John said — the memory still makes him smile.
John retired from Kodak in 1991, but found retirement difficult.
“There was an emptiness,” he said.
He’d spend his summers at his cottage in Sodus Point, and for a time was president of the Sodus Bay Historical Society. He took a job with Mike Barnard Chevrolet driving dealer trades, which allowed him to travel all over the country, but he always came home to Newark.
In 1997, he stopped into the old Courier Gazette newspaper office to find out why they had stopped the weekly historical column, “Arcadia — A history.”
Gathered by staff every week and with so many other duties needing to be done, the paper had opted to drop the column. John offered to take it over for free, but the Courier Gazette decided to take him on as a freelance writer. Soon he was taking photos for them and then began covering school, town and village meetings.
He spent the next 13 years with the newspaper. He enjoyed it, and he credits the paper for making him a people person.
John also joined Rotary International in 1997, and this July, he will become president of the Newark chapter of Rotary for the next year.
“It’s a real honor,” he said. “The Rotary Club is my passion right now. I love what we do and everybody I work with.”
For John, the Rotary’s mission has high appeal: They bring in money through fundraisers and then give every penny of it away to worthwhile causes. With 100 members in the local chapter, John said he is determined to do the best job he can over the next year leading the group.
Throughout the years John has worn many hats. He is a volunteer firefighter and never imagined when he joined the department that one day he’d serve as fire commissioner. He has served on the Chamber of Commerce board and worked as their office administrator before he officially retired in 2010. He is a member of the Newark-Arcadia Historical Society and works as a docent at the museum. He is also treasurer at his church, St. Mark’s Episcopal. He has had historical pieces published in Reminisce magazine, Old Cars Weekly and Classic Car magazine.
Currently he serves as a village trustee, just like his grandfather, who was elected to the Village Board in 1947.
“Running for Village Board was never on my radar,” he said. “I was tickled that I was able to follow in (my grandfather’s) footsteps. He’d be so proud.”
John still writes his history column for the Wayne Post, pulling news from old Courier Gazettes and now even old pennysavers. For him, the column is an opportunity to learn while fostering his memories of growing up in Newark.
Through it all, John continues to collect history. When he sees something that piques his interest, an opportunity to learn why something is as it is, he researches it until he uncovers the story. Today, people come to John when they want to know about the past. This keeper of history was humbled by the honor awarded him.
“Newark is a wonderful place to grow up,” he said. “It’s my hometown. Every once in a while I have to sit back and say how lucky I am. I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else.”