Sam Menniti, Korea District Superintendent for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, died Sunday at age 55.

Sam Menniti, Korea District Superintendent for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools, died Sunday at age 55. (Courtesy of DODDS)

SEOUL — Sam Menniti, the superintendent of Korea District for the Department of Defense Dependents Schools-Pacific, died Sunday in Florida after a battle with leukemia. He was 55.

Menniti began working as the Korea District superintendent in January 2008.

The longtime DODDS employee learned he was sick last summer after becoming ill with what he thought was food poisoning, said Missy Klopfer, principal of Seoul American Elementary School.

He was expected to recover until earlier this year, and had hoped to undergo a bone marrow transplant using bone marrow from his brother, who was a perfect match, she said.

"He handled his illness like he handled his work. He was more worried about how his illness affected other people," Klopfer said.

Menniti, a native of Ridgway, Pa., returned to the U.S. for treatment at the beginning of the school year. While he was being treated at a hospital in Tampa, near his mother’s home, he kept in touch with Korea teachers with several phone calls and e-mails each day, she said.

Klopfer, who worked with Menniti in Turkey, Portugal, Italy and South Korea, said he had a sense of humor but took his job seriously. And he was the kind of principal who knew every child’s name and was a constant presence in the halls.

"He really put students at the center of all his decision-making. He was an advocate for the kids," Klopfer said. "That’s why parents adored him."

In Seoul, he had gone to SAES dressed as Dr. Seuss and read to students.

At Incirlik Air Base, where he was the high school principal, the base paper wrote a story about Menniti’s arrival and his reputation for being tough on his students.

As a joke, the headline read: "Every parent’s dream, every child’s nightmare."

Doug Kelsey has been acting superintendent in South Korea since Menniti went back to the U.S.

Menniti had worked for DODDS since 1974, as a teacher, assistant principal, principal and assistant superintendent in Italy, Turkey, Japan, the United Kingdom and Busan, South Korea. He left his job as assistant superintendent of the DODDS-Mediterranean District to move to Seoul.

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