WEST ORANGE, NJ – West Orange native Joseph Suriano, a former track and field coach and English teacher at West Orange High School (WOHS), died on Friday at 73 years old due to complications from COVID-19.
Suriano retired in 2015 after 43 years of service to West Orange Public Schools. Suriano became an English teacher in 1969 and was also a celebrated coach whose legacy lives on both at WOHS Suriano Stadium, which was named in his honor, and in the Suriano Family Scholarship, which was established in 2016 along with the West Orange Scholarship Fund.
On the day he retired, Suriano was surprised with a special send-off organized by his daughters, Stephanie and Nicole, who are both educators in West Orange.
As he rounded the corner toward Room 1125, Suriano’s classroom for many years, he was greeted with applause from WOHS teachers and staff who continued to cheer as he headed to the Tarnoff Cafeteria, where family and friends awaited.
On behalf of the staff that day, WOHS English teacher Craig Champagne described Suriano as "a rich man in every way it matters."
"Family remains constant as other things come and go," said Champagne. "Make no mistake, we are a family at WOHS, and we will remain a family. Our greatest gift to you is to promise that we will not lose our humanity and that your light will shine on."
WOHS Principal Hayden Moore also spoke during Suriano's retirement ceremony, telling Suriano to look around to see all the lives he impacted as a teacher, coach and colleague.
“Look at the lives you’ve touched and all the retired teachers who are here to see you," said Moore. "You are part of our success.”
When he stepped to the microphone himself that day, Suriano said he was "the luckiest man on the face of the earth."
Suriano, who was All-American in track and field, was also a 1965 state champion in the 100-yard dash.
During a coaching career that began in 1971, Suriano coached five All-Americans and three athletes meeting Olympic Team standards. Under his leadership, the WOHS track team won seven league championships.
Suriano was also named All-Area Coach of the Year 16 times, league Coach of the Year eight times, Essex County Coach of the Year twice and Essex County Retired Coach of the Year.
In addition to his career as a coach, Suriano was named Teacher of the Year three times.
Suriano is survived by his wife of 50 years, Marlene (Melillo); daughters Stephanie Suriano and Nicole Postiglione and her husband, Joseph Jr.; granddaughters Avery and Dylan; and many in-laws, nieces, nephews and cousins. Suriano was the son of Carmella Suriano and the late Joseph Suriano Sr.
A memorial service for Suriano will be held at a later date. Visit Coach Suriano’s obituary page BY CLICKING HERE to donate to St. Jude Children’s Fund, plant a tree or leave a comment.
Condolences may be sent to the Suriano family at 7 Barone Road, West Orange, NJ 07052.
Cynthia Cumming, communications coordinator at West Orange Schools, contributed to this report.