Unbeknownst to John “J.D.” DiBuonaventuro, his fellow board members orchestrated a sendoff that was months in the making. It included a surprise visit from a posse of his relatives, a cake, and two framed keepsakes with photos and memorabilia.
“Wow!” he exclaimed, shaking his head as his sister, Donna Hudak, suddenly appeared, wheeling in the celebratory cake on a cart. She was accompanied by her husband, Richard, their daughter Rachael, and their son Joe, all of whom had participated in the conspiracy with Chester County Sheriff Carolyn “Bunny” Welsh, the Hero Fund board’s vice president.
“He’s hard to surprise, but we got him good,” said Donna Hudak after the presentation.
Welsh explained said that DiBuonaventuro’s years of dedicated service had to be acknowledged.
“J.D.’s passion is truly with the first-responders in the county,” said Welsh, noting his firefighting history as well as his current service as an honorary deputy in the Sheriff’s Office K-9 Unit. “He’s been the driving force in the organization. Suffice it to say, without J.D., the Hero Fund wouldn’t exist.”
Robert Kagel, who heads the county’s Department of Emergency Services, agreed. “J.D. has devoted himself for the past 17 years to ensuring those who help others are cared for in their darkest time,” said Kagel. “His leadership is greatly appreciated and will be missed. The entire emergency services community thanks him for his dedication and service.”
The Chester County Hero Fund, a 501(c)3, provides financial assistance to the families of paid and volunteer first responders who suffer injury or death in the line of duty. It was established in early 2001 and has been needed more than a dozen times since its inception. The organization’s board of trustees, an 11-member group that includes representatives from all of the county’s first-responder and law-enforcement agencies, must approve each recipient, and the fund picks up expenses beyond what insurance typically covers.
The task of replacing DiBuonaventuro fell to a search committee that included Welsh, Kagel, and District Attorney Tom Hogan. At Wednesday night’s meeting, the board named James Vito as DiBuonaventuro’s successor.
Welsh said the first time that someone mentioned Vito’s name, they all agreed that he would represent a perfect choice; however, he didn’t immediately agree.
Vito, who retired a year ago as Chester County’s chief county detective, had logged 37 years in the District Attorney’s Office. When he left, he was the longest-serving member of the office. At the time, he said he planned to begin tackling 20 years’ worth of unfinished projects at home. Now, some of them may return to a back burner.
Ultimately, Vito said he was humbled and honored by his selection. “I appreciate the board’s confidence in me,” he said. “I also appreciate the fact that we are funded by generous county citizens who recognize the sacrifices our first responders make.”
A graduate of West Chester University, Vito attended college with the knowledge that he wanted to pursue police work. The criminal justice program had just been introduced at what was then West Chester College, and Vito participated in one of its first internships, a stint that landed him in the office of the county detectives.
He started his law enforcement career in 1976 with the West Goshen Police Department and moved to the county detectives three years later. As he worked his way up in the ranks, he played a key role in many county law-enforcement initiatives, including the creation and development of the Computer Forensics Unit, the Crime Scene Forensics Unit, and the Child Abuse Unit. Vito was also one of the leaders in developing an active threat/mass casualty protocol for the entire county.
“Chief Vito served the citizens of Chester County faithfully and with integrity for 30 years as a police officer, including being the chief of the Chester County Detectives,” said Hogan. “He will bring that same work ethic and unshakeable integrity to his new position as president of the Hero Fund, watching out for the well-being of our first responders. “
In addition to voting in Vito as president, the Hero Fund board elected Butch Dutter as treasurer, and reelected both Welsh as vice president and Neil Vaughn as secretary. It also made DiBuonaventuro an honorary trustee.
The Hero Fund is a totally volunteer organization, operating on a shoestring budget that ensures that the donated funds all go to the intended recipient. For more information, visit www.chestercountyherofund.com.
Photo Caption: Outgoing Hero Fund president John ‘J.D.’ DiBuonaventuro (center) holds one of framed commendations he received. With him is Neil Vaughn (from left), Butch Dutter, Carolyn ‘Bunny’ Welsh, James Vito, Robert Kagel and Tom Hogan.