Obituary: Joseph N. Zenga Jr., 85

by | Apr 13, 2020

Joseph N. Zenga, Jr., 85, of East Greenwich, passed away peacefully at home with his family on April 9. He was the husband of Ursula (Junker) Zenga, married for 65 years.  He was the son of the late Joseph N. Zenga, Sr. and Irene (Kindle) Zenga and brother of the late Robert Zenga.

Joe attended LaSalle Academy, followed by his military service where he was stationed in Berlin, Germany, during the Korean War, and served as a U.S. Army Sergeant First Class, later becoming a member of the US Army Reserves. He met his bride-to-be in Germany, where they were married in 1955 and had their first born, Joseph III, before returning to the states to join his father and brother in running Zenga’s Restaurant (an icon in the town) for several years, while also venturing out in the world as an entrepreneur. It was the beginning of his legacy and his empire.

He ran for state representative in the late ‘70s and lost by only a few hundred votes due to his father’s passing near the end of the campaign. Now Joe wanted to really step it up. He took over Zenga’s landmark with his brother for a few years, until he became sole owner.

He on weekends he rode his motorcycles and loved his race cars. He owned several cars over the years that were raced at Seekonk Speedway in Thompson, Conn., and Waterford, Conn. This was a great family adventure loved by all.

Joe retired once when he was 40 … only to find out that wasn’t the life for him. He loved to work, and that he did, and never looked back. Nothing was ever too much for Joe, he embraced a good challenge and could accomplish anything he set his mind to. A life-long resident and a pillar in his community, he was known as the mayor of East Greenwich; the man about town and known throughout the state as well, through politics and many organizations.

Joe was the president of the Ambulance Association and a member of the Democratic Town Committee, where he had served as president. He was a leader during the 1990 banking crisis, working with Governor Sundlun, senators and representatives, for over a year and a half, to achieve his plan of getting depositors their money back. He served on the East Greenwich Zoning Board for 26 years, the Historic District Commission for 5 years, and served as president of the Big Brothers of R.I. and president of the German American Society in Pawtucket for 6 years, was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge #19 for 30 years, a member of the former Italo American Club, a member of Saint Bart’s Italian Club for 45 years and a member of the Police Chiefs Association for 50 years. 

Joe will surely be missed by many. He touched so many people’s hearts. He was a teacher and great mentor to many. His keen mind and extreme and rare ability to analyze a problem or situation was amazing. He was called a genius. He had a memory like an elephant and his intelligence was beyond belief. He always had a great story to tell.

We will miss his great friendship and extreme kindness. He would drop anything to help a person in need and didn’t have a selfish bone in his body. He had a great sense of humor, loved to tell a good joke, and would light up a room upon entering. He was the life of the party, the man of the hour and highly respected and admired by all – always.  He was a true gentleman who had a heart of gold. Joe loved life and loved to work even more. He was a self-made business man that believed no task was ever too big to tackle. He was larger than life! He was a class act! He was a force to be reckoned with – Joe was a Rock Star! He was “Cadillac”!

Joe Zenga was a great husband and father who truly loved his family.  It was an honor and a privilege to have him as a dad.

In addition to his wife Ursula, Joe is survived by his four children, Joseph Zenga III of Florida, Christine Zenga of East Greenwich, David Zenga of East Greenwich, and Stephen Zenga of Florida; a grandson, Nickolas Zenga of East Greenwich, and sister Eileen and husband Dennis Kinney of Virginia Beach.

Due to current health and safety regulations his funeral will be private. A Funeral Mass will be held at St. Gregory the Great Church in Warwick, at a time to be announced.

Find the obituary on the Hill Funeral Home website HERE.


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April 13, 2020 9:08 pm

Joe was good guy…served on dtc w him in 90s w gerry zarrella…ripa

Donny Nicholas
Donny Nicholas
April 14, 2020 6:44 pm
Reply to  Charles

Joe was one of the great guys of East Greenwich. I don’t think I’ve ever not see him smile. Just an awesome man.
He is an Icon in East Greenwich and will be sadly missed. Our condolences to the family on your loss. <3

Renu Englehart
Renu Englehart
April 13, 2020 9:22 pm

I am so very sorry to hear of Joe’s passing. I sat on the Zoning Board with him for many years and he was a joy to be around. He was a great mentor and very kind person.

Betsey Flynn
Betsey Flynn
April 14, 2020 11:25 am

Find memories of breakfast with my sister at Zenga’s

Jo-Anne Rusakiewicz
Jo-Anne Rusakiewicz
April 14, 2020 1:19 pm

So sorry for your loss! Joe was one of my FAVORITE customers at Lowes! Always had a smile and a laugh for us…he will be missed, may he rest in eternal Peace♥️♥️

Mark A Iacono
Mark A Iacono
April 14, 2020 4:00 pm

So sorry guys. Dad didn’t leave anything on the table. He didn’t get cheated, had a great life. Sorry I can’t get in line with 5000 people to say goodbye. See you all soon!!

Marie Hennedy
Marie Hennedy
April 14, 2020 8:07 pm

Joe Zenga is a good man. We were honored to live with him.

Terry Gardiner
Terry Gardiner
April 14, 2020 8:38 pm

Sincere condolences to Mrs
Zenga, Joe, Tina, David, Stephen and their families. Mr Zenga was the best of neighbors and a pleasure to know.

Felicia and Nancy
Felicia and Nancy
April 15, 2020 7:50 am

Urs, Tinel, Joe, David, Steven and Nicholas along with your families,
Please accept our deepest sympathy for your loss. Joe was a hot (well sketch) and a hard working East Greenwich Icon who will be missed. I’m sorry during this time we will not be able to pay our respect in person to you all. Please know we are thinking of you with fond memories of his smile and a joke 🙏🏻

Greg Dantas
Greg Dantas
April 17, 2020 8:08 am

The Best. A Friend, Mentor, Leader, a Great Family Man. Deepest Sympathies Zenga Family 💐⛪️🇺🇸

Louis DeMascole
Louis DeMascole
May 4, 2020 10:52 am

So sorry for your loss. He was an extraordinary individual. Always willing to engage with people. Always had a story.
Christine, tried sending a card but it was returned…incorrect address.

John LaRoche
John LaRoche
November 29, 2020 3:20 pm

cleaned windows on his restaurant in the 90s . love seeing him outside with a red rose lapel black suit and large cigar


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