Service honors city leader John Moreno

The many facets of John Moreno will be celebrated Friday
afternoon at a memorial ceremony, in the community center
’s largest room. So many people remember Moreno as a towering
figure – both personally and physically – that such a room is
The many facets of John Moreno will be celebrated Friday afternoon at a memorial ceremony, in the community center’s largest room. So many people remember Moreno as a towering figure – both personally and physically – that such a room is required.

Celebrating the life and times of this man called “Mr. Morgan Hill” will take place from 2-4:30 p.m. “despite what people may have seen or heard elsewhere,” his wife Elena said.

Moreno died Oct. 23 at the age of 83.

Police officer of a tiny, crime-free town just after World War II, police chief who built the force up with innovation over 25 years, city manager twice – Moreno is now best remembered as the man the city called on in time of trial, when a city manager left in a hurry and, again, after a 1992 recall that left the City Council several people short of a quorum.

A Morgan Hill Times story on March 20, 1992, claimed that Moreno’s accepting the position may have prevented a mass exodus of city staff.

“He was an incredible community leader,” said Mayor Dennis Kennedy.

There were two sides to Moreno, Kennedy said.

“As a person he was generous, caring and giving – yet very strong; a man of incredible integrity and sincerity – he was remarkable,” Kennedy said.

“On the leadership side he stepped in after the recall when we were desperate for someone highly respected,” he said. “The recall people were clamoring to select their own person. I forget who suggested John but we appointed him to the council. He was thoughtful and focused on what was best for the community.”

Moreno, Kennedy said, was “a kind, gentle, compassionate man dedicated to doing what was right. We were absolutely lucky that he lived here.”

Roger Knopf, community leader and builder who received a Leadership Excellence Award in May, served with Moreno on a city economic development committee and the Personnel Commission for the school district for more than a decade.

“I met John not at the side of the road in uniform,” Knopf stressed, referring to Moreno’s police activity, “but, probably when I joined Rotary in 1976.

“John was a quiet, very compassionate man but fair and equitable. But he had expectations, he had great intellectual capacity and sparked interest in others, especially in his children.”

Mary Hale Malech has known Moreno for quite a long time.

“ I met John when I was probably 5-years old,” Malech said. “We all lived on El Toro Avenue (one block north of Britton School). Our police force consisted of Moreno and one other officer – I don’t think we had any crime,” she said. He was always tall, dark and handsome – and very charming,” Malech said. “And he was a very good policeman.”

Moreno was also firm with speeders. Tales of Moreno’s occasional notoriety as a law enforcement officer are detailed in the song, “Johnny Law”, written and sung by Moreno’s younger son, Kim.

After retiring for the last time in the early 1990s, the Morenos traveled widely.

“We got to see so much together,” his wife Elena said. “We’ve walked the Great Wall of China, seen the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, been to England, Sydney, Costa Rica, Korea and Japan. We even dined in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, just before Tienamen Square. We’ve been to all the major capitols of Europe, plus the Canary Islands, Casablanca, the Middle East, toured the Black Sea, seen Russia from the north and the south, visited the mosques and palaces of Istanbul.

Also in retirement the couple “adopted” a small Guatemalan girl, Maria Alicia, six years ago; the child is now about 10.

“She was such a treasure to John,” Elena said. “He loved raising his daughter (Candace) and loved getting letters from Maria Alicia’s father telling of her progress.”

The program assures the father a job, education and medical care for the children.

Even though Moreno was not able to finish his education and, indeed, only learned English when he went to school, he tutored himself intensely, Elena said, and encouraged his children to succeed in their education.

“He was a well-educated man,” Glen Moreno said of his father. “He was learned and highly qualified.”

Moreno went through the FBI Academy and even taught law enforcement to others.

Malech, and others, said both John and Elena were magnificent parents. Elena is a retired teacher with Morgan Hill District who was chosen Woman of the Year in 1995, complementing her husband’s award in 1960. The Morenos are one of only two Morgan Hill couples to both receive the awards.

Glen, the eldest, was a Rotary Ambassadorial scholar, went to Stanford, then Harvard Law. He is now retired from years as an executive for Citibank and Fidelity Union Bank. Glen and his wife Cheryl now live in Madison County, Virginia (James Madison’s home) and London and serves on three boards: Fidelity, Man PLC and as an advisor to the Prince of Liechtenstein.

Following Glen were twins Candace and Steven Kim. Candace followed her mother into the classroom by way of UC Berkeley and Cal State Hayward and teaches kindergarten in Palo Alto and has two children. Her husband is a researcher at UCSF.

Steven Kim is a now senior official in the federal court system of Shenandoah Valley, Virginia. He and his wife Pamela live both in Virginia and in Coronado, near San Diego. Kim (as he is known on the West Coast) broke the mold a bit by leaving the state for college (Idaho) where he began working with Blackfeet Indians.

Kim, on his off hours, plays guitar, mandolin (and other strings plus penny whistle) in an Irish and Blue Grass band. He composed a surprise song about his father’s more interesting moments as a Morgan Hill policeman, called “Johnny Law” that will be played at Friday’s service. Kim, unfortunately won’t be able to attend the ceremony so he left a tape behind to be played.

Bill Tykol, who probably knows more about the town rock, Poppy Jasper, than any other living person, has known Moreno longer than almost any one.

“He and I were buddies long before we both got married,” Tykol said. “We’ve been friends ever since.”

Tykol said he joined Moreno’s police auxiliary, that he organized in 1951. Moreno first joined the force as a patrolman in 1945.

“John was a great leader, very fair,” Tykol said. “There are always problems, guys make mistakes,” he said, “but John had a way of correcting them, of not making enemies and never putting people down.”

Tykol mentioned Moreno’s height, which was considerable.

“For him to walk up to a car (as a police officer),” he said, “No matter how big the other guy was, they always had respect for him. And he never took advantage.”

He was a presence,” Malech said.

The couple considered their children’s spouses to be their children too, Elena said: Glen’s wife Cheryl, Kim’s wife Pamela and Candace’s husband Gerald Cunha. The Morenos have five grandchildren: Katie Moreno Branson and Jesse Moreno; Adam, Ashley and Tristan Cunha and one great-grandson, Aiden, who is 4 years old. Moreno is also survived by one sister, Mary Puppo. Another sister, Ann Bonaccorso, died earlier this summer.

Friday’s memorial will include memories from friends and family and music. Very long-time friend, Jean Pinard, will play the piano. “I went to her baby shower before she was born,” Elena said of the retired MHSD principal and daughter of a police office before John.

Sandy Clark will sing and Kim’s “Johnny Law” tape will be played. Rose Hernandez – (of Country Rose Inn, a Bed and Breakfast in San Martin) has been ill but will speak if she can.

“We’ve known her since she was in second grade,” Elena said.

Glen will give the family eulogy and will be followed by Kennedy, Knopf, Robert Foster and a few others. But primarily, Elena wants people to remember her husband fondly.

“I want this to be a light and happy day,” Elena said.

The family suggests that donations go to Habitat For Humanity, CARE and Maria Alicia’s World Vision.

The Life and Times of John Moreno, Friday, Nov. 21, 2-4:30 p.m. in the Hiram Morgan Hill Room, Community Center, 17000 Monterey Road at East Dunne Avenue. Details: 779-4106.

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A staff member wrote, edited or posted this article, which may include information provided by one or more third parties.


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