John Joseph Cadden, who helped shape Nassau County Community College and local school districts when Long Island was burgeoning in the 1960s, died Sunday at his home in Huntington. He was 88.

Cadden was born in the Bay Ridge section of Brooklyn but grew up in Ohio. He returned to the area to get a doctorate in English literature from St. John's University and then began his career teaching in the 1950s in the then-new suburb of Levittown.

As the next decade began, he was one of the educational leaders who got Nassau County Community College off the ground; classes started in the former courthouse in Mineola but later moved to East Garden City. He founded the college's humanities department, chairing the English department and serving as president of the Faculty Senate, said one of his daughters, Marian Tinari of Huntington Bay.

"The educational map of Long Island was formed then," she said. "He personified the ultimate educator."

He contributed to several textbooks, and was fluent in five languages, including Middle Italian, which he learned so that he could read Dante as it was written.

Once on a vacation in Florence, Italy, some foreign priests asked him for directions. After trying several languages, Tinari said her father was able to help them in Latin.

Tinari said he was always approachable. "He never spoke down to any students," she said. His enthusiasm for learning was contagious, she said. He produced a movie about the Dewey Decimal System and organized festivals honoring the poets Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

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After he left Nassau Community College, he was dean of faculty at Mercer County Community College in New Jersey, and then served as assistant superintendent of Hicksville schools from 1969 to 1973 and superintendent of schools in Carle Place from 1973 to 1977.

After he retired, Cadden continued to teach at several schools, including teaching English at St. Dominic High School in Oyster Bay.

He attended church daily at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport, where he took part in the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults program, which helps people convert to Catholicism. He also sang in the church choir.

"He had a beautiful life," Tinari said. "He really did."

Besides Tinari, he is survived by his wife of 60 years, Phyllis; three other daughters, Kerry Ann Cadden of Vienna, Va., Sheila Marie Sullivan of Greenlawn and Nancy Patricia Cadden of Huntington; a son, Kevin Patrick Cadden of Bayport; a sister, Kathleen Tomaszewski of Brooklyn; a brother, William of Virginia; seven grandchildren and a great-granddaughter.


Visitation will be from 2 to 5 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Nolan & Taylor-Howe Funeral Home in Northport. A Mass of Christian burial will take place 10 a.m. Thursday at Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Centerport. Burial will be in St. Patrick's Cemetery, Huntington.