Rosemarie Longobardi, 76, just had to run her fingers across the name etched in granite.
Gennaro Longobardi, Sr.
"Everyone knew him as Jerry," she said. "What a man. What a man. He'd give his heart for anyone."
He was her husband. They had been married for 56 years. Good ones. They had two sons — one who, like him, now earns a living taking care of Bayonet Point Middle School. In their early years, he was a baker by trade. That was back in New York, before they moved to Florida and he took a job as the assistant plant manager at Bayonet Point.
There he became part of the family. Still is.
He died Jan. 22 at age 83, close to 10 years after he retired.
Now his name is one of 16 etched in stone in a newly planted memorial garden at the school where he once worked. There, people who knew him can come to visit; maybe remember his smile and his helpful nature. Those who didn't know him can see his name and the names of other school employees who once walked the halls, polished the floors, answered phones, took care of administrative tasks or stood at the front of a classroom imparting knowledge.
All made a difference.
That's what the anonymous quote says. The one science teachers Greg and Dawn Rauschenberg painted on the wall, above the granite plaque.
One hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in or how much money I had in the bank. But the world may be a better place because I made a difference in a child's life.
Words to live by.
Connie Duffy's name is on the memorial, too. She was a social studies teacher who died in January 2010 at age 61. Then there's the rest: Shelby Naylor, Joyce Hall, Gordon Tucker, Earl Nall, Ed Mazdzer, Alice Roll, Paul Weller, Wanda Roark, Bob Aubin, Connie Fast, Gail Robinson, Lori Jorgensen, Sue Beddow and Margaret Cuttler.
The list seems far too long for some.
The years that saw those people pass have been tough on the Bayonet Point Middle school family — especially for long timers like special education teachers Joanne Giglio and Nancy Richard and technology teacher Bill Hamrich.
For a while, it seemed like colleagues and friends were falling, one right after the other, Giglio said. A spate of illnesses: brain cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer; the shock of an automobile accident. Lots of tears and sorrow flowed. Memories, too.
Then came the determination to keep those memories alive.
Back in August, the idea was launched to create a place to remember, a space for reflection. And so with the support of principal Mike Asbell, the three teachers led an effort to beautify a piece of wasted earth out by the back parking lot. Joined by faculty members and students, they toiled and soon a patch of weeds became a memorial garden filled with lilies and azaleas and the favored flowers of some. Gardenias for Mrs. Robinson. Roses in honor of Mrs. Beddow.
On Monday, after spring break was over, the staff returned to Bayonet Point for an official dedication. First they gathered with families of the departed for breakfast and a slide show in the cafeteria.
Jennifer Gerbino, 39, sat with her dad, Kenneth Roark, 73, and they both spoke of her mom, Wanda Roark: her love for teaching English, her longing to be a grandmother, and how she hung on just to see that through.
"Over 20 years in this one school," said Mr. Roark.
"This is wonderful," Gerbino said. "A nice tribute."
Hamrich shared a poem and some tender words. Tears flowed. Hugs were shared. More memories, too.
Then they filed out to the garden where superintendent Heather Fiorentino cut a red ribbon.
Joachim Gensecke, still overcome with grief from the loss of his wife, reading teacher Lori Jorgenson who passed away in December 2007, fought back tears and offered up a donation, then promised to support future efforts to nurture the garden.
"It still feels like yesterday," he said. "I'm going to be spending hours here. Other than home, this as close as I'm going to be to my wife."
Stella Duffy, 90, mother of teacher Connie Duffy, talked about all the letters she received from former students who shared stories of how her daughter had changed their lives.
"They said they wouldn't be where they were today if it weren't for her," Mrs. Duffy said.
And with her son, Jerry Jr., by her side, Rosemarie Longobardi made her way out of the modest crowd and up to the wall.
"Oh my God, isn't it beautiful," she said, with a teary-eyed smile. "I just had to go touch it."
Michele Miller can be reached at email@example.com or at (813) 435-7307.