Behind the Life of a Dedicated Worker
Cinnaminson's Pasqual Galeone spent his life quietly changing lives, including that of many special needs students at Garfield Park Academy.
His favorite story is about meeting Lillian, his wife of 50 years. How he walked into the car dealership where she was working on South Broad Street in Philadelphia, how he saw her sitting at the desk where she was an office worker, how he told her he would one day marry her.
She laughed and told him he was crazy, that she already had a boyfriend. He didn’t mind. He’d always been a patience man.
That was in 1954.
After a speedy three-month courtship, Pasqual “Pat” Galeone won her heart and married the love of his life.
“She was a beautiful lady. Sometimes you just know who’s the one,” says Galeone, about that certain something that he and his Lillian shared that just seemed to ignore clarification.
That trip to the dealership led to another job in the automotive industry, a career that spanned 61 years, and eventually led Galeone to start and run the automotive training center at Garfield Park Academy, a private vocational school in Willingboro providing services for students in grades K-12 who have a history of learning, social, emotional and behavioral problems.
Last year, Galeone, now 90, retired from the vocational school, after nearly 10 years of service. This past June, he was honored by the key principals of the school, who dedicated the automotive building to Galeone and renamed it The Galeone Automotive Training Center.
While Galeone served as its director, Garfield Park Academy’s automotive program received accreditation from the National Automotive Technicians Education Foundation and the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, making the automotive school the only state-approved private school for students with disabilities in New Jersey.
Beginning with 24 students, the program grew to hundreds under the tutelage of Galeone, who wrote the entire curriculum from beginning to end.
Galeone grew up in the Little Italy section of Frankford in Philadelphia, a child of Italian immigrants. His father was undocumented and had problems securing jobs, thus leaving the family struggling at times.
“The first public school I ever went to sent me home because I didn’t speak any English,” says Galeone.
Eventually, Galeone graduated from Northeast Catholic High School for Boys, attended two years at LaSalle University, and took a couple of automotive classes at Spring Garden Institute. Right after, his mother was diagnosed with a cancerous thyroid.
At 6 feet, 2 inches tall and weighing 210 pounds, Galeone found a quick way to make a buck and joined a fight club. Stay on your feet for three boxing rounds, a friend told him, and you'll make $15—a windfall during those times.
After he and Lillian got married, they lived in Philadelphia until their house was broken into one day. The couple moved into a simple, but gracious split-level home in Cinnaminson in 1969.
Always a skilled craftsman, he worked magic with his hands.
“I did all of the wrought-iron work inside and finished the fireplace,” says Galeone proudly, of the ornate railings and wall inserts. To this day, the place has cream rugs, rosé-colored slipper chairs, and lamps with crystal teardrops—all decorated by Lillian. Her organ that she played daily remains in the living room.
“She liked the place to have some sparkle.” Galeone says. Kids would have been wonderful, but they were never blessed.
Their home was a place where the two of them, both only children, shared their lives, cherishing each other and remaining bonded, until Lillian's illness and death separated them in 2004.
Inevitably, Galeone reached out to longtime co-worker Nell Peluso when Lillian was suffering, and after her death, Peluso and her husband Tom, helped plan Lillian’s funeral with Galeone. They saw to it that Galeone, who was still working, would be “adopted” by them as Poppy Pat, a surrogate grandfather and great-grandfather to the Pelusos' children and grandchildren, which filled a familial void, since both Pelusos lost their own parents many years ago.
“He’s a family member. We take him with us on vacations, and the first baby he ever held was my grandchild. You could see how exciting this was for him,” says Nell Peluso.
Although Galeone, who still wears his wedding band, has remained in his Cinnaminson house, the Pelusos come by daily to help cook and clean, while Galeone listens to Frank Sinatra or other 1940-era singers, or sometimes he reads a book.
He’s a self-described loner, but Garfield Park Academy's executive director and superintendent, Steven A. Morse, says he marvels at the fondness people have for this man, especially apparent during the dedication ceremony.
“On the day we celebrated, so many people came out to congratulate Pat," says Morse. “You could see the devotion.”
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