Ralph Vellon certainly took his civic responsibilities seriously.
As a member and officer of the Belleville Board of Education, he served on its policy and finance committees and he put in the time to offer his valuable insight.
His even-handedness was evidenced when architects and bond counsel outlined a proposed $48.5 million referendum and the soft-spoken Vellon said he recognized the need for infrastructure improvements but also the financial hardships on local taxpayers.
Now, as the board draws closer to putting that proposal on the ballot, Vellon’s guidance will be absent.
And the youngsters he helped coach on local Rec teams will no longer have Vellon to instruct them.
That’s because Vellon died suddenly Aug. 21 at the age of 60.
When his fellow school trustees next convene on Aug. 30 for a follow-up discussion on the referendum, only his nameplate will be visible, along with a white rose as a memorial.
“Ralph was a dedicated member of the community,” said Richard Tomko, superintendent of schools for the Belleville school district.
“He was the board’s vice president and he had filed petitions to run again,” Tomko added. Vellon’s 3-year term was to expire this year. The board election is in November.
By state law, the Belleville BOE can appoint an interim replacement by majority vote of the remaining board members who would serve until the BOE reorganizes in January.
Should the board fail to act within 65 days of the time the vacancy occurred, the Essex County superintendent of schools would appoint someone to the seat.
For the relatively short time he was involved with the board, Vellon “put in a lot of initiatives,” Tomko said. “As the person in charge of the finance committee, he played an integral part in the state CAFR (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) in seeing that we policed ourselves accordingly.”
Additionally, Vellon – who was the COO for Health Plus Surgery Center in Saddle Brook and Dynamic Surgery in Hackensack and a member of AORN (Association of perioperative Registered Nurses) – brought his specialized knowledge to bear on the district’s health-related concerns, Tomko said.
As examples, Tomko mentioned the role played by the trustee in ensuring the district beefed up its nursing staff coverage along with advocating the adoption of “a lot of policies on mental health issues.”
And there was the effort he put into learning all he could about the proposed referendum – one of the topics Tomko said he and Vellon discussed on Aug. 16 – the last time they spoke.
“I remember he was very impressed at our ability to get nearly 50% state funding [of bonding debt] for the referendum,” Tomko said, while, at the same time, the trustee’s hope was “to keep those improvement projects as affordable as possible.”
Additional testimonials came from Belleville BOE member Tom Grolimond, who called Vellon “one of the more honorable people I’ve dealt with on the board. He didn’t know the word ‘no’ – he was always there for you.”
Aside from the time he put into making sure that Belleville students’ health and safety needs were being secured, Vellon was also busy looking after kids at play, Grolimond noted.
This he did, since 2006, as a volunteer with the Belleville Recreation Department, having coached girls’ softball, T-ball, boys’ and girls’basketball and flag football.
A measure of the man’s reputation in the Belleville community was taken in 2015 when a fire struck the Vellon family home, rendering it temporarily uninhabitable and, according to Tomko, the then-BHS senior class, guided by faculty member Joseph Sheridan, undertook a fundraising campaign on the family’s behalf – which, Tomko said, the family later donated back to the school system.
“His death leaves a void in our township that will never be filled,” Grolimond said. “My heart goes out to his wife and children.”
A native of Puerto Rico, Vellon lived in Passaic before moving to Belleville 22 years ago.
A Navy veteran, Vellon was a member of American Legion Post 105 in Belleville.
He was buried in Glendale Cemetery, Bloomfield, following a funeral service Aug. 25 at the S.W. Brown & Son Funeral Home, Nutley.