Two years after his tragic motorcycle accident, John Harvilla’s family and friends honor him through the Tinman Foundation

John Harvilla’s family was lost.

After the 26-year-old United States Marine and Hamilton Township police officer died in a motorcycle accident in August 2011, they couldn’t be consoled. They had lost a fun, positive, loving man whose family said had an impact on everybody he met.

“I knew that we needed to do something positive to keep John’s memory alive,” Bernadette Piscopo, Harvilla’s mother, said. “I needed to channel my emotions into something positive because that’s the kind of person my son was. I just wasn’t ready yet.”

Piscopo wanted to do something to continue Harvilla’s effect on the world. Soon after her son’s death, Piscopo met Dave and Maria Schultz. The couple had founded Ryan’s Quest in an effort to raise money and awareness after their son, Ryan, was diagnosed with Duchenne muscular dystrophy.

“One day after meeting them and learning how they channeled their emotions, I knew that I wanted to do something for sick kids,” she said.

She got in touch with Hamilton resident Brittani Radice, a childhood friend of Harvilla’s. Radice had reached out early after her friend’s passing about starting their own foundation.

“She just got the ball rolling,” Piscopo said. “She had it all ready in her head: what we were doing, how we were doing it, what the name was.”

With that, 11 of Harvilla’s friends and family members came together to create the John J. Harvilla Tinman Foundation. They had fond memories of Harvilla’s portrayal of the Tin Man in Crockett Middle School’s production of The Wizard of Oz as an eighth grader, so they felt that was the perfect name.

The Tinmen, as they call themselves, sponsor a different sick child with each fundraiser they hold. Their major fundraiser, Sunday Funday, is on May 13 this year. This year, the Tinman Foundation sponsors Nicholas Palmieri, a one-year-old who suffers from Apert’s Syndrome, which affects the bone structure in his cranium, feet and hands.

“Our mission is just to bring John out in these children that we help,” Radice said.

They try to stay as local as possible with each child they benefit.

“He loved Hamilton,” Piscopo said. “He loved this more than anything. We basically stick with Hamilton residents to keep him more of a hometown hero.”

That, though, was a legacy he shaped himself during his life. Harvilla, known by his friends and family as “the unofficial mayor of Hamilton,” served a seven-month tour of duty in Afghanistan as a marine before returning home and joining the police force.

Joe Piscopo, Harvilla’s stepfather, said that Harvilla’s career path was just in his nature.

“I believe that John would like to be remembered as a man who truly understood that it was better to serve than be served, to give than to receive,” he said. “I don’t believe there was ever any conscious thought on his part with regard to his behavior. For him, there was just not any other way to be.”

Stacey Pollard, his partner on the force and Tinman foundation member, said working with Harvilla “was not like work at all.”

“To be with a partner that you absolutely adore was huge every day,” she said. “Going to work was actually fun. When you’re with a partner for 8 to 12 hours a day, it makes it a lot easier. We stopped everywhere to talk to people. Even just bringing him around my family, you turn around to introduce him to people, and he’s already off on his own talking to everyone.”

Phil Pratico, a friend of Harvilla’s, said he had always been like that.

“When you would go somewhere with him, you couldn’t sit down for five minutes without him saying ‘Hi’ to everybody,” he said. “He was just fun to be around.”

Bernadette Piscopo agreed.

“He was so much fun,” she said. “He could put a smile on your face. He never walked in the door not whistling, singing, smiling, playing the guitar, dancing. He always made us laugh no matter what. He could light up a room.”

That is exactly what the Tinmen try to convey through their fundraisers. Their major annual event is Sunday Funday, held at The Stone Terrace. They aim to capture the spirit of the Jersey Shore through food, drinks, games, and entertainment while raising money for a local child.

“We took John’s life and what he did,” Radice said. “Every day he had off, he was down the shore. He loved Jenkinson’s. We kind of took all that and made it into our own little creation and then added more aspects of John’s life into the functions that we hold.”

Last year’s Sunday Funday was the first. Radice said they transformed the back patio into a boardwalk-style area complete with tiki heads, game wheels and a dunk tank. The day also included an exercise challenge due to Harvilla’s love of fitness and a performance by his former band. It was an all-ages event that Radice said accounted for all the lives Harvilla touched.

“John was so diverse,” she said. “Our functions are from 70-year-old people to the 15-year-olds that want to just get in and celebrate because they knew John when they were kids. He connected to everybody. He just brought people together.”

Bernadette said she and her family are exhausted after the events, but in the end, it’s worth it.

“We go with it for the moment,” she said. “We soak it up, and it’s just beautiful. It’s wonderful, as he would say. He really lived life for the moment. He believed in enjoying life. He always said ‘Life’s too short.’ You just never know.”

This year’s Sunday Funday will be held on May 19 from 3-8 p.m. at The Stone Terrace. Tickets are $40 per person. For more information or to purchase tickets, contact jhtinman@yahoo.com. On the web: johnjharvillatinmanfoundation.org.