WEST ORANGE, NJ — A combined 84 years of learning, teaching and coaching in the West Orange School District earned brothers Nick Galante and Pat Galante the West Orange Scholarship Fund and West Orange Education Association’s annual Lifetime Achievement Award, presented to them at a fundraising reception at the Rock Spring Golf Course on May 30. The Trustee Lifetime Achievement Award went to Diane Vantuno, in honor of her more than 30 years of service with the WOSF.
Vantuno began working with the WOSF in 1985 as a member of the Roosevelt Middle School PTA, and again as president of the PTA at West Orange High School. All three of her children are graduates of WOHS. In an interview with the West Orange Chronicle at the event, Vantuno said it’s a community effort to raise the almost $92,000 that the organization awards graduating WOHS seniors each year.
“It’s for any post high school education: college, trade school, graduate school,” Vantuno said. “The lowest amount is for about $250, and that might get someone books for a semester. We’re trying to reach as many people as possible.”
Students apply for scholarships, but Vantuno said the review committee doesn’t always look for the top student, but rather looks for students who are the most deserving and in need of scholarships.
“Some of these kids have never gotten recognized before and that’s great that we can do that,” Vantuno said. “We have people who then come back and are happy to pay it forward. It’s a wonderful group of people.”
The Galante brothers moved to West Orange at age 9, and attended Redwood Elementary School, the now-closed Lincoln Junior High School and Mountain High School, graduating in 1965. Both attended Seton Hall University and earned bachelor’s degrees in elementary education. Nick Galante started working in the district in 1969 at St. Cloud Elementary School and stayed there until 1977, teaching second, third, fourth and sixth grade. He taught sixth grade at Washington Elementary School and then became assistant principal at Pleasantdale Elementary School, now called Kelly Elementary School. He also coached golf at WOHS from 2000 to 2012.
Nick Galante was the president of the WOEA from 1973 until retiring in 2013 as the longest tenured local union president in the history of New Jersey. He helped pass 37 out of 40 school budgets.
Pat Galante began his career at Mt. Pleasant Elementary School in 1970 and taught sixth grade there until 1985, when he moved to Pleasantdale and spent three years there. In 1988, he began teaching math and science at RMS. He became dean of students at WOHS in 1997, and stayed until his retirement in 2010. A supporter of athletics, he coached baseball and football at Lincoln Junior High School, freshman and varsity football at WOHS, and supervised WOHS weight training.
Pat Galante was also a longstanding member of the WOEA, serving as the negotiations chairman for 37 years.
“The best experience I had was writing programs,” Nick Galante said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event, saying he enjoyed writing curriculum. “That was one of the most worthwhile things I did.”
Nick Galante said both he and his brother found jobs they wanted to do for more than 40 years.
“We found a job we wanted to go to every day,” he said. “Teachers should want to go to work every day.”
Stephanie Suriano, who currently serves as the school district’s science supervisor, was one of Pat Galante’s sixth-grade science students. When she introduced him at the event, Suriano described the ways he influenced her and her decision to eventually become a teacher herself.
“He sparked a curiosity in me that is one of the cornerstones of who I am,” she said. “It’s a testament to his style that his influence has lasted. He was kind, consistent and fair. He bonded with students and we loved him right back.”
Nick Galante was introduced by Mayor Robert Parisi, who was a student at Washington Elementary School during the teacher’s tenure there. While not a student in one of Nick Galante’s classes, Parisi described his interactions with him.
“I didn’t have to spend much time around him to know he was one of the most popular teachers in school,” Parisi said. He spoke about the work that Nick Galante did to pass the referendum to build Liberty Middle School and about his dedication to the township.
“I’ve known him as a teacher, a customer, when I used to cut his grass, and a friend,” Parisi said. “As one of those former students and as the father of two former students, I congratulate you.”
It was an added bonus for both brothers that they got to teach in the same district from which they graduated.
“When I came back to teach they were like, ‘Hey, you’re back!’” Nick Galante joked.
Pat Galante agreed.
“It’s a place where we loved going to school,” he said in an interview with the Chronicle at the event. “So why not want to come back and teach in it?”
Photos by Amanda Valentovic