Four years after his death, Jose Cespedes is still missed

By Kevin Canessa Jr.

April 12 marks the fourth anniversary of the death of Kearny High School alum Jose Cespedes. I’d like to tell you about this remarkable young man who left this world way too early.

I first met Jose in 2007, when I was the editor of this newspaper. We put out a request to Kearny High School for teens who were interested in writing a weekly column for The Observer called “Bridging the Gap.”

“Bridging the Gap” was the brainchild of Lisa Feorenzo, who was publisher of the newspaper, several years before this. The idea was to allow budding journalists a chance to show their talents. It was also a chance for the younger generation to show older generations that young people weren’t all about roaming the streets all the time, and that, indeed, some were very bright – and had opinions and beliefs that were truly relevant.

Jose was one of the few who responded at the time – and he was the only one who would regularly submit columns. In fact, there were times we had to hold his columns because we had to give others a chance to be published. But the truth is – this is meant as no disrespect to our other Bridging the Gappers from the era – no one came close to the work Jose submitted.

He was vibrant. He was deeply principled. He stood by every single belief he espoused. And in the midst of Hudson County, a bastion of Democrats, he was proudly a conservative Republican. And he let that be known without hesitation.

Jose and I had something in common. We were both deeply involved in a news story in Kearny that involved KHS alum Matthew LaClair and KHS teacher David Paszkiewicz. While I don’t want to rehash that story, Jose was staunchly in Paszkiewicz’s corner. And he was not afraid to go after this newspaper despite the editorials we wrote that were highly critical of Paszkiewicz and the Kearny School Board for the way it handled the situation.

In a sense, he was the ombudsman of this newspaper, even though, unlike The New York Times, we didn’t have an ombudsman – or more simply, a public editor or journalist whose job it was to critique our coverage of everything.

He was not afraid to call us out. He was not afraid to say he believed we covered the story unfairly. He was not worried about whether we’d still offer him the column space after he wrote that we were “extremely biased” in our reporting.

This was only one of the many reasons why Jose Cespedes was such a wonderfully unique human being.

Four years ago, he died at 22 after battling liver disease for six months.

He had his entire life ahead of him – and was taken from this world entirely too soon. And yet, it was so obvious just how much this young man meant not just to The Observer and to me, but to everyone with which he came into contact.

The 2012 alum of Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine, was the subject of a remarkable feature obituary after his death. So many spoke glowingly of him.

La’Shaye Ervin, his Bowdoin classmate, was one of them.

“He was just a really giving person,” Ervin told Bowdoin’s student newspaper. “He cared about politics and was the reason why I voted every time. He would play ‘Hail to the Chief’ and go to the polls. He was always involved in everything.”

Of course, the shame of it – among other things – is that Cespedes was so keen, so bright, that one wouldn’t have been shocked if he’d gone on to have a political career, one that might have even brought him to Pennsylvania Ave. one day. I can’t help but think he would have been a volunteer for the current president’s campaign in 2016 had he not succumbed to the awful disease that took him from us.

That’s the kind of person Jose was, though. He would have given the shirt off his back, even for a Democrat, if needed.

He left behind his family, including his mum, Sandra Getler, who still lives nearby. But he left behind a legacy that could only be matched, never surpassed.

Jose Cespedes may be gone.

But he will never, ever be forgotten.

This world is just not the same without him.

Odds & ends

• I’d like to take the time thank each and every person who reached out to me over these last few weeks following my grandmother’s stroke and ultimate death. I couldn’t be more grateful for the outpouring of love.

She was so proud of her Irish heritage, and so it was just fitting that she left this world on Friday, March 17 – St. Patrick’s Day.

Indeed, we were all sad, but my family took incredible comfort knowing she died on such a special day … and that she was reunited with her husband (my grandfather), Thomas Sr., and the three sons – Thomas Jr., Patrick and Matthew – who all died before her.

Again, thank you, one and all!

• I will preface this by saying Kearny Library Director Josh Humphrey was the first friend I made, back in 1985, when I moved from Jersey City to Kearny. What Humphrey continues to do at the library is nothing short of amazing. There are so many things going on at the library that I wonder how he sleeps at all.

The latest program at the library is something I wrote about last week – free WiFi hotspots that are available at the library now for patrons to sign out for a week at a time. They program is designed for those who do not have Internet at home – and you’d be surprised just how many people don’t have home Internet.

The hotspots allow people out of work to do job searches at home, kids without Internet at home to do schoolwork and so many other things that we often take for granted.

This is a tremendous program, among many others, that Humphrey has implemented in the time since he took the reign at the library.

Well done, Josh. Well done, indeed.

• Happy 30th birthday, on April 1, Mookie (MIL)! Love you.

That’s all for now. Thanks, as always, for reading. See you back here in three weeks.

The opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer, Kevin Canessa Jr. Contact Canessa at or on Facebook or Twitter @kevincanessa. Your feedback is welcome and encouraged.

Learn more about the writer ...

Kevin A. Canessa Jr. is the editor of and broadcaster at The Observer, a place where he has served on and off since 2006. He is responsible for the editorial content of the newspaper and website, the production of the e-Newspaper, writing several stories per week (including the weekly editorial), conducting live broadcasts on Facebook Live, including a weekly recap of the news — and much more behind the scenes. Between 2006 and 2008, he introduced the newspaper to its first-ever blog — which included podcasts, audio and video. Originally from Jersey City, Kevin lived in Kearny until 2004, lived in Port St. Lucie. Florida, for four years until February 2016 and in March of that year, he moved back to West Hudson to return to The Observer full time. Click Here to send Kevin an email.