Pam I am

When pondering new challenges as she neared the end of her presidency for the Passyunk Square Civic Association, Pam Zenzola, as she had done 24 years ago when moving to Japan as a newlywed, wondered what role she could acquire to cater to her desire to be a giver. Last month, the 62-year-old secured an impressive answer to her inquiry by becoming the executive director of the East Passyunk Avenue Business Improvement District.

“I’m just so much about community, so something like this is truly compelling,” the overseer said from her office space that is situated not far from the gateway to the popular commercial corridor. “The more that people get involved, the more we will all feel better as members of this neighborhood. My time here, therefore, will be dedicated to building new bonds and strengthening existing ones.”

Zenzola gladly recalled her giddiness when learning of the position, saying to husband Ed “I think I really, really want this.” With her beau’s blessing and intense familiarity with the district through duties performed for then-executive director Renee Gilinger plus residence within Passyunk Square, she set herself to filling the big shoes left behind and growing the 14-year-old entity’s reputation as a communal energizer.

“I’m looking to put my mark, my stamp, on things,” Zenzola said of helping around 160 establishments to excel. “It’s about drawing attention to their sites because there’s such diversity to what they offer, and it’s all in the name of giving people great experiences when they make trips along the avenue.”

The eager employee noted she does not feel as if she needs to reinvent the wheel, as the positive spin that circulates through the environs is already serving as a source of inspiration for her efforts, including contributions to Oct. 29’s Fall Fest and Spooky Saturday and Nov. 5’s Antique/Vintage Market and Sidewalk Sale. Heavily contemplating connecting places and patrons to a greater degree, which 10 monthly Facebook-based business profiles have begun to do, Zenzola has vowed always to consider what will have an immediate impact on the encouragement of proposals from possible occupants and what will spur guests to intensify the avenue’s allure. While she has held her post for only one month, she is approaching everything as a savvy veteran might, owing, most certainly, to her love for everything South Philly.

“I always need to do something, and I will forever want to give back,” Zenzola said. “I remember my niece telling me that my energy matched that of South Philly, so I love exploring that sentiment every day. This is a huge area to promote, and I love that task. It gives me such a sense of excitement, too, to interact with such innovators. Things can only get better.”

The North Philly native nurtured an interest in philanthropy as a girl and came of age in the city’s Northeast section. Entering the workforce once she completed her studies at Archbishop Ryan High School, she commenced a 20-year career with gas titan ARCO, with her departure being one of three major life events that 1992 would bring her.

“What a year!” Zenzola exclaimed of the stretch of time that also saw her become a bride and head to Tokyo for her partner’s employment obligations to ARCO. “It definitely signalled a transformation for how I look at the world and how much I felt I could contribute to the bigger picture.”

Initial doubts about how she would find her way bowed to the belief that she would eagerly involve herself with whatever endeavors would become apparent, with the Tokyo English Hot Line sustaining her motivation. Japan’s capital city proved “so orderly,” and she came to appreciate so many aspects of the culture, including locals’ upholding of “the wa,” or “the harmony,” that implies peaceful unity and conformity among a social group. Life in Hong Kong, which the Zenzolas began toward the end of ’93, proved quite the opposite, as citizens found themselves more open to consider the best implementation of their talents. For the owner of constantly evolving compassion, that meant assisting children without families and pregnant adolescents.

“That got me hooked,” Zenzola said of how her work with Mother’s Voice enhanced her attraction to being an advocate for believing in the value of everyone’s role in a society’s overall upkeep and evolution. “I’d already understood the needs of others, but that was a huge opportunity to push for real change.”

An affinity for comprehending the depth of her possible immersion into Asian culture also led her to lead the league of women voters in Hong Kong and to serve as the president for the territory’s American Women’s Association. She and Edward returned to the United States in 2000, settling in Horsham, where she also busied herself with community-based undertakings.

“I eventually grew to miss the hustle and bustle of city life,” Zenzola said of a yearning that helped her to become a South Philly resident eight years ago. “There’s so much to experience in such a setting, and I’m happy to be back and thrilled to be in South Philly.”

She desired an immediate relationship with the Passyunk Square Civic Association and began as its secretary, smiling when recalling her “I have to fire myself” admission to peers when realizing she felt she had not done a decent job. Becoming its president in ’12, she loved the responsibility of improving the quality of life for residents from Sixth to Broad streets and Tasker Street to Washington Avenue, with that devotion dovetailing with unwavering interest in helping East Passyunk Avenue’s operations to become beacons to make Zenzola eager for every meeting, including those related to the budget.

“Oh, those,” she laughed. “Seriously, though, everything is wonderful. I love the baptism by fire because it means an even brighter future for these locations in that I’m going to be on my toes every time someone needs something.” SPR

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at

Photo by Tina Garceau