“Some guy named Joe”
A lot of people travel when they retire. And they tend to spend money. Joe Satriano, a retired math teacher, is doing his share of logging miles, and this year alone he dropped $85,000 during his travels.
But it’s not the scenery or the entertainment he’s reaching for. It’s the people — and when he meets them, he’s there with a check in hand and a hug from the heart. He’s there to support them and to say, “I know what it’s like when a loved one has cancer.”
Satriano started a foundation for those he calls “the silent sufferers” — the children of a parent struggling with cancer or who died from cancer. It’s not just about the money, though. It’s the hope he sprinkles on the check, the personal conversation, the sharing of pain.
When he travels, most of what he packs is his story. Satriano, a member of the Roslyn TA, lost his wife, Sue, also a math teacher, to cancer. Along with their pain, he remembers how difficult it was for their two sons, Matthew and Justin, during Sue’s 13-year illness.
Six months after she died, he realized he wanted to help other kids who have a parent who has met cancer face-to-face. He started a foundation to award them college scholarships, typically $1,000 each, when they graduate from high school.
“It’s very cathartic for me,” he explained.
In 2006, the first year, he gave out $4,000 to four seniors. This year, close to 150 students have applied.
Satriano knows that, for many kids, grades suffer as they deal with an illness that zooms in so close to home and generates so much fear. Economic uncertainty often follows if the sick parent is unable to work. He meets most of the scholarship recipients in person; he wants to give them a chance to talk about how they feel.
He cranks out the most miles on his car during June. That’s when he attends awards and scholarship ceremonies for graduating seniors in different parts of New York — 40 districts on Long Island alone — and New Jersey. He’s there to meet the graduates in person and to give them a helping hand on their way to college.
One day in June, he was in Uniondale High School on Long Island at 4 p.m. for a ceremony, and then drove down the Jersey Turnpike for an evening ceremony at Howell High School. From there he drove home so he could be at an awards breakfast at Patchogue-Medford High School at 7:30 a.m. the next day. Later that same night, he was at Southside High School in Rockville Centre.
This year, he will also be traveling in July as well, this time to Detroit, to receive the “Everyday Heroes Award” from the American Federation of Teachers at the union’s annual convention where he will be honored as the retiree hero of the year. The AFT is one of NYSUT’s national affiliates.
“I look at this as a great, great venue to talk about the foundation with people from across the country,” Satriano said.
Many people are thrilled that he won.
“I had a senior whose mom passed away that year from cancer,” said guidance counselor Adam Glatzer, a member of the Sewanhaka Federation of Teachers. A parent in the community told Glatzer about “some guy named Joe who lived in Oceanside” who gave out scholarships. Glatzer tracked down the “Joe.”
“He’s an unbelievable guy,” Glatzer said. “What he really cares about is he sits down with every student, to commiserate and go over strategies to cope.”
Glatzer said after Satriano met with the senior, the school set up a meeting between Satriano and the student’s father, with whom he was able to share grief and experience over losing his wife.
“His wife was his world and his world crumbled,” Glatzer said. “He picked up the pieces. It could’ve put him a hole the rest of his life.”
Susan Satriano was a UFT member who taught math at Bushwick High School in Queens, and then later taught adult education at Oceanside.
While she helped many students during her life as a teacher, she continues to help them through this legacy. The foundation began with her life insurance money and now Satriano raises money through an annual Walk of Lights, a Strawberry Fields Beatles Tribute Band performance on Long Island, donations and sales of the book he wrote, “In Sickness and In Health.” (For more information on the Susan Satriano foundation please visit www.susansatrianofoundation.com.)
Oceanside parent Michelle Borsack has a daughter, Chelsea, who just won a Satriano scholarship. As a single parent (her husband died in an accident when Chelsea was in second grade) Michelle Borsack appreciates the help, especially since she has a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma with which she’s been since 2004.
“I think the ripple effect of what he’s doing is huge,” she said. “Because he is a community person, people do talk about it (cancer). It gets people talking and educates them. It opens up communication.”
Lori DeGeorge, guidance counselor secretary and member of the Middletown Clerical local union, said Satriano talked with one student through Skype to help him with the loss of his mom, and then presented the student with the scholarship in person.
With Skype, Satriano is able to “meet” students from many parts of the United States, as word spreads about his scholarship fund. He’s donated money to students in Montana, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
“I like to start by talking with the school counselor,” he said.
“We think of him as a friend now," said DeGeorge.
-- Liza Frenette
(Joe Satriano is a retired member of Roslyn Teachers Association.)