BLOOMFIELD, NJ — A black caisson bearing the coffin of former Bloomfield Civic Band conductor Dominick Ferrara III, 78, was drawn by horses on Saturday morning, Feb. 18, for the journey from Halpin-Bitecola Brookdale Funeral Home in the Brookdale section of town to St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
For the first time in weeks, the skies were blue. In the harness were two white Percherons, a breed of French draft horses, said the driver. The flag-draped coffin was followed by mourners and a band. They traveled along Broad Street to Day Street, across the parking lot in the rear of the church and finally around to the church steps. Waiting there were other mourners. One was Paul Alongi, Ferrara’s best friend.
Alongi, 83, said he knew Ferrara for 73 years.
“We were in the Boy Scouts together,” he said. “Troop 25 in Newark. I was his troop leader.”
Alongi said they also went to Barringer High School, although not together.
“I was five years older, “ Alongi said. “But we both played the saxophone. And we were both leaders of the Blue Jackets, a jazz band well-noted as one of the best in New Jersey.”
Both also took lessons from the same teacher and sometimes found themselves playing at the same gig. But they lost touch with each other.
“That was in the ‘50s,” Alongi said. “I was already living in Bloomfield but he was still in Newark.”
Alongi went to study law while Ferrara became a music educator, establishing the music program for the Secaucus Public Schools. He was the director of this program for 35 years.
“But something happened in 1975,” Alongi said. “In 1975, he and his family moved to Bloomfield. We met outside this church on the steps.”
There were two surprises in store for the men on that day. Not only were they bumping into one another for the first time in about 20 years but they discovered their wives already knew each other from work. Both wives worked for New Jersey Bell Telephone Co.
“He brought me into the Bloomfield Civic Band,” Alongi said. “I became the president of the band that week.”
Both families became very friendly, Alongi recalled. Vacations were taken together and their children became friends.
Alongi said he and Ferrara formed the Garden State Concert Band.
“We played throughout the state and Lincoln Center,” he said. “We just celebrated our 33rd year.”
Alongi said his friend was a musical genius, and also, for 22 years, the chief warrant officer and commander of the NJ 50th Armored Division.
“He had a great history,” Alongi said.
What was special about Ferrara, he said, was that he was also well-liked.
“He was so involved with his music but he was so
affable,” Alongi said.
Both men were with each other when their wives died. Alongi said Ferrara was especially lonely after his wife died.
“His children were out-of-state,” he said. “Mine are here.”
Alongi said his friend went through a spell of bad health but rebounded and conducted the Christmas concert at St. Thomas a few months ago.
He had seen Ferrara at the Bloomfield civic Band rehearsal on Monday, Feb. 6, and at a Bloomfield Italian restaurant on Thursday, Feb. 9. They spoke for the last time on Saturday night, Feb. 11, two days before Ferrara was found unresponsive behind the wheel of his car, in his driveway. Alongi said a heart attack is suspected.
“I always had a key to his house,” he said. “I would always check on him.”
Ferrara had called Alongi that day to tell him that he was locked out of his house. He asked Alongi to put his copy of the key into the mailbox. That was the last they spoke.
“In his obituary, he called me his best friend, which I was,” Alongi said. “And he was my best friend.”