Stan Wodazak got an early start in his career.
He was just 17 when he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he was a fireman, said his wife, Chris.
He was out of the Navy by 20, but he stayed in the same basic field. He got a job as an emergency medical technician in Ocean City — which is how he met the young nurse’s aide, Chris Silvestro, who would become his wife in a few years. Stan moved up in his career by becoming one of the first Mobile Intensive Care Unit paramedics licensed in New Jersey.
He used that to get a job as a medic in Camden, where he spent part of his growing-up years — and moved up so fast that in his 20s, he got to be the city’s chief of Emergency Medical Services. By then, Stan and Chris had a son, Tom, and they didn’t want to raise a family in Camden — although by rule, Stan had to live in the city to work there.
So after almost 10 years of career advancement, he quit and moved back to Atlantic County, where he also grew up. His parents were divorced and his mother moved to remarry. A friend told him about a job as a Ventnor police dispatcher, and Stan was hired.
But his chief encouraged him to become an officer himself, and Stan did — at age 30, 10 years older than some classmates at the police academy.
Still, he rose through every rank to become Ventnor’s police chief by 2000. He was chief for eight years, until his health forced him to retire. Stan, of Egg Harbor Township, had pancreatic cancer that he managed to fight for years, but it returned in 2012. He died last month at 61.
“With Stan, it was all or nothing, and he couldn’t give it his all,” said another retired Ventnor police chief, Don Cancelosi, who also happens to be Stan’s younger brother. (They have the same mom.)
Stan was 10 years older and got to the job first, but not by long.
Still, Cancelosi said, “He taught me how to be a cop. Pretty much all the success I had in my career, I credit him with it.”
Cancelosi also learned “people skills” from his brother and friend — and boss.
“Sometimes you have to be the boss, and people don’t like it,” Cancelosi said, “no matter what the relationship is.”
There was much more than his career — or careers — to Stan’s life. He could build almost anything, including his family’s home. When he took up judo, he got a black belt.
And when he fought his cancer, which became a kidney disease that forced years of dialysis, he fought hard.
“He was diagnosed 12 years ago and (was) told he had three to six months to live,” Chris said.
But he was there to see his only daughter, Kimberly, get married in October.
“During our father-daughter dance,” she said, “he whispered in my ear, ‘I promised I'd be here.’”
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