On Tuesday, June 11, 2013, the Verona Board of Education accepted the retirement of Marilyn Varallo. It was just a small item on the agenda, buried in resolution 4. Almost as small as the first graders that Varallo has been teaching since anyone in Verona can remember.
As the news got out, MyVeronaNJ.com’s Facebook page and the “Old Verona” Facebook group filled with memories, as vivid as if the writers had walked out of her Laning Avenue classroom a minute earlier. They wrote of a teacher who had nurtured them and inspired them to learn, and in many cases to become educators themselves.
Don’t get the wrong idea: There has been plenty of love for Laning’s other teachers too. But Miss Varallo became a member of the extended family of many families in the northeast corner of Verona, teaching often all the siblings as they came through over the years, and then, more recently, the children of her first students.
And as the years went on (don’t ask how many, it’s not polite) a new worry developed for those first students: What if Miss Varallo left Laning before their children got to enter her classroom? Beth Shorten was in Miss Varallo’s 1973 first grade class and she wrote about that dilemma on her blog:
Two years ago I heard the rumor that Ms Varallo was going to retire. I was devastated. My son was in kindergarten at the time and I wanted him to have Ms Varallo. I knew that her nurturing style was exactly what he needed. So when I saw her in the school hallway one morning, I stopped her and said that I realized that she probably didn’t remember me, but she said my face was familiar and when I told her my name, she lit up and gave me a hug. I told her how much I wanted her to have my son who would be entering first grade that next year and I’ll never forget how she said, “I would love to have your son.” Just the way she said it warmed my heart because it wasn’t just words, it was honest and heartfelt.
She did have my son last year. And just like all those years before with me, she nurtured him and instilled in him a sense of pride and love of reading. I know that she has a laid a solid foundation for my son to continue to grow on.
Verona is known for its long-serving educators: Joel Throne retired last June after 40 years at VHS, Kevin Jennings leaves this year after 34 years at Forest Avenue and Frank Albano, Laning’s principal, departs now after a 34-year career, all but four years of which were spent in Verona. But Miss Varallo’s record may go unmatched in Verona history.
“I’m so very grateful for having the opportunity to help our children,” Miss Varallo says simply. “It’s been my life’s work and I have loved every minute.” She loves to travel, and expects to be doing lots of exploring in retirement. “I can not, however, imagine my life without children in it. I expect I will be searching for places to be with them, in whatever capacity that may be.”
Photo of Marilyn Varallo courtesy Cindy Kramer. Photo of 1V courtesy Lana Fuller Nguyen.