I’ve attended a lot of special ceremonies over my lifetime remembering or honoring people I know. Most memorable ones include my mom and dad’s retirement dinner in 1986 in Bangor, Maine, my son’s graduation from Rutgers University in 2005, the funerals of my (many) aunts and uncles and my parents, and two dinners in New York City in the 1980s honoring anti-racist, southern, progressive leaders Anne Braden and Victoria Gray-Adams.
Today’s special ceremony across the street from my house at the Demarest local elementary school was different. This one honored Dominick Delli Paoli, retiring after 22 years as a crossing guard at the age of 92. For all of those later years of his life, he helped to get kids between the ages of 5 and 11 safely across Broughton Avenue in Bloomfield, NJ every school morning and afternoon.
But Dominick was so much more, and that is why he was honored in the elementary school gym today by hundreds of excited, appreciative and beautiful children, as well as the school principal, teachers, other staff and a few neighbors.
Up until the last couple of years when his health declined, Dominick usually didn’t go home after the morning shift. He went inside the school, volunteering to help in any way he could. If the custodial staff needed an extra hand for something he was available. He often helped out teachers by reading to their students; he also assisted in the cafeteria. When school was dismissed, he returned to his work as a crossing guard before he returned home.
Dominick came to work early, and what he did while waiting for the kids to arrive was to walk past the homes across the street from the school. If there was a newspaper that had been thrown onto a driveway he would pick it up and put it next to the front door.
I remember a time when I saw Dominick after returning from one of my early morning bike rides. I was feeling down, feeling as I sometimes do the weight of our wounded and struggling world, wondering if the work that I and many others are doing to change it is ever going to yield significant results. I had ridden my bike into the garage where I park it, and as I came out Dominick surprised me by being right there. In his hands was our daily-delivered newspaper, and he offered it to me. I took it, mumbled a thank you and went inside.
Immediately, I started feeling different. That small act of Dominick’s, knowing it to be something he does regularly out of the goodness of his heart, really affected me. It was as if he were an angel being there to pick me up in my hour of need, my need for inspiration. I was very touched, and changed.
At today’s retirement ceremony Dominick was presented with one plaque from the school and at least 100 handmade cards and posters from the Demarest children. After the brief ceremony honoring him, Dominick didn’t speak, too overwhelmed to do so he said later. But he acted. He began walking down the aisle, shaking hands and hugging any of the children who wanted that personal contact. Many, many did.
After the kids and their teachers left the auditorium back to their rooms, a few of us who knew him and the principal talked for a few minutes. Dominick reminisced about the many things which he did as a volunteer in the school for so many years. He talked about how much he enjoyed doing so, how much he loved the children. That was why he did what he did.
Dominick is a very special person, but he’s not alone. There are people like him everywhere, in every country, every city, every town, every neighborhood. They are the salt of the earth people who give hope, who quietly and modestly hold things together by their example and their love. Long live the example of Dominick Delli Paoli!
Ted Glick is an organizer with Beyond Extreme Energy, President of 350NJ-Rockland and author of the recently published books, Burglar for Peace and 21st Century Revolution. More info can be found at https://tedglick.com, and he can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/jtglick.