Eight months ago, we brought you the story of Nutley’s Gerard “Jerry” Tolve, a well-known singer whose voice could often be heard belting out the tunes in restaurants in North Arlington, Nutley, Bloomfield, Clifton and elsewhere. In 2020, Tolve was diagnosed with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.
At the time of our chat, the ALS was quickly taking its grasp on him. And yet, it never took him over. He was preparing for a wheelchair and the ultimate reality that his lung function was decreasing — and his singing would ultimately stop and he would lose his life.
The man, who never lost his faith and who performed as late of Christmastime — just a few months ago — succumbed to the hideous disease on Feb. 3, 2022.
He was just 61.
Before we get into the tributes scores of friends offered him, we say he was proud of have lived his entire life in Nutley. He graduated Nutley High School in 1978 and then got a bachelor’s degree in, what else, music, in 1982 at William Paterson University.
He leaves behind his wife of 31 years, Sherri; children Jay and Natalie; his parents Gerard and Genevieve; his siblings Greg and his wife Sandy and Joy Intindola and her husband Brian; and many caring aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews.
Last baseball season, Tolve was able to check off a “bucket list” item when he was chosen to sing the “Star Spangled Banner” before a game at Yankee Stadium, in the Bronx, as part of MLB’s ALS Week. He belted out the anthem across the street from the location where, in 1939, Lou Gehrig, delivered his infamous “Luckiest man on the face of the earth” speech, with the player knowing he would soon succumb to the disease that would ultimately bear his name.
You might think singing at the Stadium would be a career high — and it was. But the humble man had already sung with superstars Stevie Wonder and Whitney Houston, among so many others.
Like Gehrig, however, Tolve knew he was a lucky man because he got to experience what he loved most — music — and he was able to make a career of it, just as Gehrig did with baseball. And so whilst he was dealt a crushing blow in September 2020 when doctors told him he had ALS, he never got angry. He never self-pitied. He didn’t want anyone feeling sorry for himself.
He had every right to feel angry and self-pity. But he said he didn’t need to — he had someone in his life who helped wipe all that away before it even festered.
“I go at my own pace and get through this with my faith in Jesus,” he said last summer, loudly and proudly. “It’s the source of my strength. I don’t blame God for this happening to me. I’ve accepted that this is all in God’s hands and that I am blessed to be surrounded by wonderful friends and family.”
Oh so many will miss him
While Tolve sang with countless partners, it was Carla Virola with whom he was best known to pair with. When he got his diagnosis, he embarked on what he, himself, called the “Jerry’s Dying Tour.” Virola joined him many a night to say farewell to legions of fans.
Virola took to Facebook, moved so much by the loss of her dear friend, to share her reflections.
“The past few years have been such a trial and testament to one’s strength to face adversity, not only for my family, or my dear friend Jerry and his family, but for the world — it just never seemed to stop with COVID, downturned economies, families and friends who struggled physically with Corona and the insanity that is our world today,” Virola wrote “ … By the fall of 2020, when my dear friend Jerry Tolve shared his ALS diagnosis and then asked me to join him on his ‘farewell Jerry’ tour, as he so lovingly called it — I was all about it.
“Jerry not only stared his life-threatening illness down with dignity, but in his last year, he gave us the gift of his talent as his illness was advancing and he always had a smile for us and the patrons. We can all learn from the lesson he showed us of his faith in Jesus, God and most of all, love. I know Jerry is now singing with the angels today …”
Virola was hardly the only person to offer tributes. In fact, there are hundreds, alone, on Tolve’s Facebook page. Were we to print them all, we’d likely need 100 or more pages of paper. Still, The Observer’s co-owner Lisa M. Feorenzo spoke of how his music and personality brought such joy to those who knew him and how he will be missed by many who he touched through his magnificent voice.
She recalled, fondly, a small-scale event her friends put together and Jerry was the DJ.
“We laughed the whole night. And it is a memory that will last forever,” she said “We were at Lassoni in North Arlington and a few friends as I were having a dance contest. One of the awards was the ‘Two left feet’ award. It was all such fun, and Jerry played and sang away for us. We all had a great time that will be one to remember. It all reminded me of the first time I ever heard him play there. Where we were sitting, we could only hear, but not see, Jerry. The way he sang and adapted his voice for each song, you would think you were hearing the song’s original singer.
“He was such an amazing talent, but he was more of an amazing human being. His Christian faith, in his darkest days, he had put it in God’s hands. Heaven needed and angel and God sent for you. Until we meet again, my friend.”
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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.