Remembering Mr. Di Napoli

When I was 17 years old, I drove my father’s van to visit some friends in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. I was supposed to go ice skating in Brooklyn with Mr. Di Napoli’s cousins. On my way back home to Far Rockaway, the van’s front right tire hit an obstruction in the road. I was travelling due North in the fast lane at approximately 65mph, on the New Jersey Turnpike close to New Brunswick, NJ. The van catapulted and somersaulted over the grassy divide and landed in the southbound fast lane. All of the van’s passenger side windows were blown out, and the car completely totaled. Luckily, I had my seatbelt on, and emerged dazed but unhurt. Even more miraculous, I did not hit another vehicle.

Too afraid to call my parents, I called numerous friends and relatives instead. Everyone I spoke to was either not home, did not understand the seriousness of the accident, or could not come and get me. With this, I called Mr. “D,” who calmly replied, “wait right there, I will come get you.” Mr. Di Napoli came all the way from Brooklyn to pick me up. When I arrived at his home, his mother met me with a plate of Italian sausage and peppers in addition to a shot of Amaretto (believe me, I needed that shot of amaretto!). It was the first time I had ever tasted amaretto – it was delicious, and just what I needed to calm my nerves.

The next morning, Mr. D drove me home. It was in front of Mr. D. that I rang the bell to my parent’s house, squirming around to hide behind his back. He told my father there had been an accident. My father pooh-poohed it. “Oh, a little accident,” he said, but when my father saw the van, he almost pulled out what was left on the sides of his bald palate. Upset he said, “I can buy another van, but I cannot have another son.”

This is one of the many wonderful memories that I will always treasure of someone who was as close to me as some of my relatives. With great affection, Mr. Anthony L. Di Napoli, “Mr. D.,” is remembered.


Mr. D passed away a year ago at the age of 73. Here is something I wrote taken from the Friends of Rockaway page in his memory.

I am very sad to report that Mr. Anthony L. Di Napoli  (Mr. “D”)  passed away a few months ago. He was the school’s music teacher, chorus director, and retired Dean of the school. For those of you who did not know Mr.”D” you may have seen the movie, “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” with Richard Dreyfuss. If you gave that movie an Italian twist, you would have a glimpse of the personality and character of Mr. “D.”  He conducted the Junior High School  (JHS 180) chorus of over 200 kids for many years. The chorus was all inclusive especially for those who had limited musical abilities. You made a commitment to be at the school at 8:00 a.m. sharp twice a week. Sopranos on Monday, Altos on Tuesday, Tenors on Wednesday, Basses on Thursday, and the entire chorus on Friday. In the 1970s, the chorus was chosen by the New York City Board of Education over every High School chorus as the only four-part chorus to perform at Lincoln Center.

Mr. “D” was well respected by his peers, students, and parents. When the music program was eliminated due to budget cuts, he became Dean of the school. When one of the kids got into trouble he was sent to Mr. “D.” The office called the student’s mother to come to the school. The kid was very smug and waited patiently for his mother to arrive. When his mother came to the office, she started to hug Mr. “D.” The kid was completely bewildered and started to tell his mother what “supposedly occurred.” What her son did not know was that his mother was in the chorus many years ago and was a student in the music class. She told her son to “shut up” and Mr.”D” told her what happened. When her son tried to interrupt Mr. Di Napoli, she grabbed her son and started to smack him. “If Mr. “D” said you did that, that’s all I need to know.”

When my daughter was little, we were at home watching a movie. In the middle of the movie, I heard a familiar refrain,  and startled her by bursting into a full throated version of “Every Time I Feel The Spirit,” the closing song of every choral performance. Mr. “D” touched hundreds of students and left a legacy of accomplishment in all of us.

Jack Ryger