Hank Cisco, 96, the longtime honorary ambassador of Norristown and cheerleader of most everything that was connected to the Montgomery County municipality, died Tuesday, Jan. 14.
For three decades, Mr. Cisco was host of The Hank Cisco Show, a cable-access program recorded at Norristown Area High School. Before that, he was a Norristown police officer and a Montgomery County detective. In the 1980s, he launched a fundraising campaign to build a monument to Christopher Columbus at Elmwood Park.
“I was always so proud to say, ‘I’m from Norristown,’” he said in a 2019 Inquirer article.
Before all that, he was a professional boxer and onetime “stablemate” of heavyweight champion Rocky Marciano. Mr. Cisco, born Francis Ciaccio, needed a name that was easy to pronounce, and with a nod to Marciano, he was renamed Hank “the Rock” Cisco. For the rest of his life, he went by Hank Cisco and was still called “Rock” by many.
Mr. Cisco died after a long battle with cancer, the Norristown Times Herald reported.
Norristown Councilman Hakim K. Jones said in an email Tuesday night: “I have always known Hank to have a great sense of humor, a genuine love for boxing, and the ability to bring people together. I respect his legacy, decades of service to Norristown and the many lives he has positively affected. Ninety-six years is special, and he lived them to the fullest.”
He was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Nov. 9, 1923. His family relocated to Norristown, and that’s where he was raised, one of eight children. He dropped out of high school to become a boxer and later enlisted in the Army.
He was a Norristown police officer for 24 years and an investigator for the Montgomery County District Attorney’s Office for 13 years. While a Norristown cop, he worked in the juvenile division.
“When a kid couldn’t make restitution, if they broke a window or something, I gave them shoeshine boxes, and they shined shoes,” he said in a 1995 Inquirer interview. “And they made a good living after they paid back the money they owed, too.”
To keep youths out of trouble, he taught some of them how to box, and they became known as the Cisco Kids.
Mr. Cisco frequently cited his mother, Josephine, as his inspiration.
“My mother always told me, ‘Do good, and people will move you forward,’” he said.
While with the police, he found that a stone marker he had never bothered to read had been vandalized. The words inscribed on it were, “On This Site Will be Erected a Statue to Christopher Columbus.”
He learned that a dozen Italian American clubs had placed the marker in 1926 but that the statue was never built. Mr. Cisco decided to finish the project, and a much more elaborate monument was completed in 1992, in time for the 500th anniversary celebration of Columbus’ arrival in the Western Hemisphere.
Mr. Cisco was a close friend of Frank L. Rizzo and was a pallbearer at the funeral of the former Philadelphia mayor and police commissioner.
Besides his youthful boxing career, Mr. Cisco worked as a referee later in life.
For years he was Norristown’s unofficial ambassador, but then it became an official designation. In late 2018, he resigned from the unpaid position.
He married his wife, Delores, in 1955. She died in 2015 after a struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.
Mr. Cisco is survived by daughters Joanne Marano, Carol Griffith, and Mary Ciaccio; son Michael Donofrioi; four grandchildren; two great-grandchildren; and a sister.
A Funeral Mass is set for noon Friday, Jan. 17, at Holy Savior Church, 407 E. Main St., Norristown. Friends may call Friday at the church from 8:30 a.m. till noon.