The Baldwin, Bellmore and Merrick communities are mourning the loss of a longtime community advocate and beloved teacher. Hundreds of people filled the pews of St. Christopher’s Church in Baldwin on Saturday to remember Jason Vitale, an earth science teacher at Mepham High School in Bellmore and the quality-of- life chair for the Baldwin Civic Association.
His wife, Jennifer Vitale, an assistant principal at Plainedge High School, said that nearly 900 people from all facets of his life, including former students, BCA members, people they both taught with, childhood friends and family filled the church to pay tribute to her husband.
Vitale, 48, was skiing at Vermont’s Killington Mountain Resort with Jennifer and their 10-year-old daughter, Katherine, when he suffered a heart attack and struck a tree on Dec. 28. He was rushed to an area hospital, where he later died.
Vitale was active in the Baldwin community for many years, and was a passionate civic association member.
“Jason was one of the BCA’s most active members, and was a one-man crusade for improving conditions in Baldwin,” BCA members said in a statement. “As the longest-serving chair of the Quality of Life Committee, he worked tirelessly to educate residents and business owners on the do’s and don’ts of town rules about keeping the hamlet of Baldwin beautiful.”
Although he was born in Brooklyn, Vitale was raised in Merrick and moved to Baldwin about 10 years ago. Jennifer said he was dedicated to his family and his community.
“We moved here because it was a diverse community and we wanted that for our child to grow up,” said Jennifer, who was raised in Rockville Centre. “We chose this place on purpose. We chose to live here to raise our child in a community that reflected the greater world.”
As soon as her husband arrived in Baldwin, Jennifer said, he wanted to be involved with the BCA and “wanted people to know what he knew” — that Baldwin is a wonderful community.
“He made it his mission to make this a better place and a more community-oriented town,” Jennifer said.
“We will remember Jason for his dry wit, his unassuming nature, and his continual presence and support of BCA events,” the BCA said in a statement, adding that he inspired others to work, even when it seemed easier to throw in the towel. “His insights about making suburban life better and his rapport with BCA members, Baldwin residents and business owners will be missed.”
Vitale loved to travel with his family, and they spent summers together at Silver Point Beach Club in Atlantic Beach and on their boat. He was an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed camping. He loved animals, too, and worked with injured birds when he was younger, which is why his family asked for donations to the Little Shelter Animal Rescue and Adoption Center in lieu of flowers. Services were held at Fullerton Funeral Home in Baldwin on Jan. 2 and 3.
Administrators from the Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District spoke about Vitale after his untimely death. In an email to the Mepham community, Principal Eric Gomez said the school was providing grief counseling to students and families at Mepham last week.
“We will continue to provide one another with support, and extend our deepest condolences to the Vitale family during this difficult time,” Gomez said in a statement. “Mr. Vitale cared about his students and will be missed deeply.”
District Superintendent John DeTommaso said Vitale was “a well-respected science teacher,” and would be missed by the entire Bellmore-Merrick community.
Vitale graduated from Calhoun High School in 1989, attended the University of Buffalo, and began working for the district in 2000. Jan. 26 would have marked his 20th anniversary at Mepham.
In addition to his wife and daughter, he is survived by his parents, Glenn Vitale and Patricia Napoli; his brother, Michael Napoli; his step-parents, Michael Napoli and Debbie Vitale; his in-laws, Joseph and Jane Teta; nieces Juliet, Lily, Elle and Bryn; and his brother-in-law, David Teta.
“Mr. Vitale was someone who took his job seriously and was passionate about it,” said Mepham alumnus Julian Wilson, who was a student of Vitale’s. “He’d engage everyone in the class, and make sure that we all understood the material we were learning. He loved his job, and he loved his students. The moment the news of his passing surfaced, everyone was in shock. It hurts to know that Mr. Vitale has passed, and in this tragic way. He will be missed dearly. My prayers and condolences go out to his family, friends and the Mepham community.”
Mepham school representatives also said that Vitale coached the Bellmore-Merrick Varsity Bulldogs and was an adviser to the Environmental Interest Club.
“He was a really great local community leader and a good person,” said former Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen, a Baldwin native. The turnout for his funeral “showed how loved he was by so many different communities, the school community, the Baldwin community … The Town of Hempstead, Baldwin community and his school district have really lost someone who was incredibly talented, kind and giving, and we’re all a little bit sadder about it.”
“The Baldwin Civic Association board and membership, and the countless others Jason touched,” BCA members said, “sadly say goodbye to a great volunteer, a wonderful teammate and an important advocate who loved his Baldwin community.”