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Local News

Joe Fiorentino to receive Ellis Island Medal of Honor

LYONS — A little over two weeks ago, Joe Fiorentino, 53, discovered a nondescript package sitting at the front door of his home in Lyons.

“This might be it,” Fiorentino said to his wife as they brought it inside.

Fiorentino is no stranger to winning awards. The walls of his downstairs entertainment room are covered in certificates, plaques and even a few Samurai swords — received for his service as a Cook County Sheriff’s deputy and martial arts instructor and competitor.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of these. We’re running out of wall space,” Fiorentino said with a humble shrug.

Inside the package, Fiorentino found what he was hoping for — a letter and materials announcing that he was a 2013 recipient of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor. His wife, Heidi, had been submitting him for the award for several years, and now it had finally come.

A list of former recipients of the Ellis Island Medal of Honor is astounding. They include former presidents, Nobel prize winners and leaders in art, industry and sports. About 100 medals were handed out last year to deserving Americans by the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, whose mission includes preserving the Ellis Island Monument and honoring the diversity of America.

So why was Fiorentino receiving this award? For one, he’s been inducted into the U.S. Martial Arts Hall of Fame and the Italian American Hall of Fame in New Jersey. He’s also been honored by Cook County Crime Stoppers and the Illinois State Bar Association. He’s received letters of congratulations from first lady Michelle Obama, Governor Pat Quinn, Senator Dick Durbin, Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart and Congressman Dan Lipinski — just to name a few. It’s no wonder the Fiorentino’s are running out of wall space.

The underlying reason for all these accolades is Fiorentino’s dedication to teaching.

“I live with the motto, ‘each one, teach one and each one, help one,’” Fiorentino said.

He’s been studying various martial arts since 1997. Initially inspired by Bruce Lee, he decided to take a judo class in college and found he enjoyed it. Since mastering these skills, Fiorentino has worked hard to spread their message of self-defense and helping others.

Fiorentino volunteers his time to teach senior citizens self-defense at the Hansberry Square Center and he teaches kids at the Westchesterfield Community Association in Chicago. He has also led demonstrations at area schools, to cub scout packs and to various police organizations. Last year, Fiorentino headed to Nashville, Tenn. to volunteer to teach defensive tactics to officers from five different states on his own dime.

“It feels good to give back,” Fiorentino said simply.

In May, Heidi and Joe Fiorentino will head to New York City to take part in the celebration and receive his medal. The first night will include a meet and greet dinner at the Ritz Carlton Hotel, followed by a second night where medals will be presented at Ellis Island.

“They haven’t told us who else is nominated, so I have no idea who we’ll meet,” Fiorentino said.

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