By Ron Leir
Elinor Mostello and Bob Iracane were both members of the Belleville High School Class of ’65 but didn’t actually get to know each other until their senior year – which happened to be the same year the then-“new” high school opened.
“We met the first week of school in [September] 1964 when we happened to be in the same math class,” Elinor explained, “but it took him until February to ask me out.
“It was Feb. 12, 1965. We went out to the Belleville vs. Orange basketball game.” Four years later, he proposed.
Bob and Elinor remembered the good times at Belleville High last month when they joined three fellow alumni – Joseph Cervasio, Pat Bradley and Rose Pepe – and Patricia Maucione (now Pugliese), one of their former social studies teachers who has since retired, at a mini-reunion of some members of the first class to graduate from the current Belleville High.
Cervasio, who was president of the Class of ’65, which had 364 students, had called BHS Principal Russell Pagano about organizing a visit, primarily to celebrate Bob and Elinor’s initial meeting in Classroom 217.
“When I was contacted late over the summer by Mr. Cervasio, I thought this would be a great opportunity to reunite the community with the wonderful things at Belleville High School,” Pagano said. “Having alumni return to our school and speak to our students give our students an insight on what to expect when they leave the halls of Belleville High School. It provides encouragement, positive vibes, creates respect and helps student learn about success. This is why I had Mr. [BHS Vice Principal Joseph] Rotonda coordinate this event with me.”
The alums got a tour of the building from BHS seniors, ate cupcakes marked “BHS 1965” baked by the school’s culinary arts students and fielded questions from students.
“I really enjoyed high school,” said Elinor Iracane. “Belleville was a great place to grow up.” And, in September 1964, “It was heaven to be in a new place. We had spent three years in the other building on Washington Ave. [now the middle school] where we were on split sessions where it was so crowded that one year, we couldn’t even get to our lockers, so we had to carry our books everywhere.
“In the new building, we had lots of space. … I remember the excellence of the teaching staff. It was interesting to see how many had gone to Belleville High School themselves. To me, that says something very good about the community.” Elinor eventually became a software engineer for AT&T at Bell Labs.
Bob Iracane, a CPA, recalled the feeling of “arriving at a new school in my senior year after spending three years in the same high school my father had graduated from 30 years before me. Everything was brand new. It was a total change. In the old high school, it was crowded, there was no campus to speak of and only a small gym. For physical education, we had to walk up to Clearman Field on Union Ave. At lunchtime, you could go to the corner pizzeria. At the new school, we had a cafeteria – there were five lunch periods and you had 25 minutes to eat.”
Overall, though, high school “was just a good time in my life,” he said. “And going back to the high school last month was such a breath of fresh air. The school was in beautiful shape, spotless. To see the kids wearing uniform golf shirts or the sport shirt of the day was very refreshing.” Bob confessed to having “planted the seed in Joe Cervasio’s head” to help arrange a return visit to commemorate that special time when he and his future wife first met.
Cervasio, a corporate executive who handles talent management services for the resort industry and the author of “Bad News on the Doorstep,” also enjoyed the occasion and interacting with the students who “were so relaxed and transparent.” He advised them to, “Live in the moment [and] not be fearful of tomorrow or overly consumed with yesterday.”
His fondest memory, Cervasio said, was of classmate Nicholas Arnold Melito, who had cerebral palsy but who “went from seemingly being least likely to succeed, to becoming one of America’s best comedy writers in Hollywood…. He was the youngest writer ever for Johnny Carson and Joan Rivers was his mentor. When he passed away in 1999, he remains an inspiration to me and all of us from the Class of 1965. He is the only member of our class on the hallowed Wall of Recognition.”
A formal reunion gathering of the Class of ’65 is being planned, possibly for fall 2015.