WEST ORANGE, NJ — Gov. Phil Murphy remembered beloved West Orange High School coach and teacher Joe Suriano in a broadcasted tribute on Friday, Sept. 18.
Suriano retired on Jan. 29, 2016, as teachers and staff lined the halls of West Orange High School. A scholarship in his name was founded that same year and will continue to provide funds for graduating WOHS seniors for years to come.
Suriano died April 10 from complications of COVID-19. The Suriano family met Sept. 16 with the governor to share memories and information of their husband and father. On Sept. 18, Murphy gave a touching tribute to Suriano in his COVID-19 broadcast:
“As we do every day, let’s take a couple of minutes to remember three more of the blessed New Jersey souls we have lost over the past six months. Today, we begin, and I don’t use the word legend lightly, but this guy by all accounts was a legend. We remember a West Orange guy through and through, the legend, Joseph ‘Joe’ Suriano, who was a longtime English teacher and track coach at West Orange High. That he ended up there is no mystery. Joe was a West Orange native, a state high school track champion in the 100 meters and an All-American in college. He started his teaching career at West Orange High in 1969 and would remain a fixture there for a few years — 46 in fact — retiring in January of 2016.
“For his commitment to his students, he was named Teacher of the Year not once or twice, but three times and, as a coach, his West Orange Mountaineers track and field teams won a total of seven league championships, and he earned All-Area Coach of the Year honors an amazing 16 times, League Coach of the Year eight times, twice recognized as Essex County Coach of the Year. He coached five athletes who would go on to garner All-American status, and three who met Olympic-qualifying standards. For all of this, there is little wonder that the track and football field at West Orange High was dedicated as Suriano Stadium in his honor. His legacy will also live on through the Suriano family scholarship.
“When he retired, one of his colleagues said Joe was, and I quote him, ‘A rich man in every way it matters.’ And for Joe, even more than his students, that wealth was measured in his love for his family.
“He leaves behind his wife of 50 years, Marlene, and their two daughters, Stephanie and Nicole, and I had the enormous honor on Wednesday of speaking with all three of them. My wife, Tammy, had sent Marlene and Nicole a note right after Joe passed a few months ago, and it was an honor for me to speak with all three. He also leaves his son-in-law, who is Nicole’s husband, Joseph, and he also leaves two granddaughters, Avery and Dylan. He also leaves many other extended family members, friends and, of course, thousands of grateful students and student athletes. Joe was 73 years old. Thank you, Joe, for your years of dedication to the youth of West Orange. You made your hometown and all of us in this state very proud. May God bless and watch over you.”