Vicenza mourns longtime school teacher

By KENT HARRIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 2, 2004

VICENZA, Italy — There is no shortage of memories of Joe Pellerito.

The children, former colleagues and friends of the man who spent almost 40 years teaching in Vicenza shared some of theirs during a memorial service Tuesday for Pellerito, who died last week at 70 following a severe stroke.

“He was Vicenza Elementary School to me,” former colleague Mel Cann wrote in a note that was read aloud to the hundreds gathered in the base chapel.

There were the sixth-grade field trips to Florence, the annual Christmas concerts he organized, gentle corrections on the proper use of English, always picking up the check at restaurants — and overtipping the waiters at the same time.

He belted out Broadway music in the hallways of the school with longtime colleague Fred Benanti. He told jokes to his girls basketball and volleyball teams during timeouts to try to cheer them up when the score wasn’t in their favor.

A handful of the school’s current athletes wore their uniforms to the service. Coaches from other schools attended as well.

Benanti called him the “life of the party” and remembered a number of functions he attended “were, at best, sedate until Joe Pellerito walked in.”

Friend and golfing buddy Mike Mullen said Pellerito taught thousands of students and coached hundreds more since coming to Vicenza in 1964.

Other than a brief stint as principal in Rimini, he was in the community to stay.

Mullen said his friend’s list of contributions were numerous, but the complete scope would never be known.

“There are accomplishments none of us know about, because he just did the work and didn’t take any credit for it,” he said.

Not that Pellerito wasn’t given any credit. Several colleagues praised him as a mentor during and after the service.

“I never attended any of his classes, but he was a teacher of mine,” said school counselor John Zaborek.

“I was never on any of his teams, but he was my coach.”

“There’s no way to replace him,” said Thomas Ellinger, superintendent for the DODDS Mediterranean district.

Jamie Pellerito sang a favorite song of his father’s in Italian. Daughters Becky and Jenny contributed thoughts.

Mary, his wife of 44 years, sat in the front row. She was presented with a flag by the members of the VFW Post 8862. Pellerito, a veteran of the Korean War, met his wife while attending his hometown University of Detroit and taught in the area until moving to Europe in 1962.

Colleagues said he was looking forward to the new school year and resisted talk of retirement: “I like my kids, I like coaching my teams. I like what I’m doing,” he said.

Benanti, who related that conversation, said he had been looking forward to showing Pellerito some progress he’s made on the golf course.

“Unfortunately,” he said, “my teacher won’t have the pleasure of having another teaching success.”

Joe Pellerito spent 40 years teaching students in Vicenza before suffering a fatal stroke last week. Outside the classroom, he also taught music and coached girls' tennis, basketball and volleyball teams over the years. He was remembered by hundreds of people Tuesday in a memorial service.

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