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Students create scholarship to honor teacher who was 'exemplary human being'

Jeanine Brogan, widow of teacher Jack Rice, with

Jeanine Brogan, widow of teacher Jack Rice, with former students Ed Thompson, left; Gregg Penny; Patrick Marzano; Mario Tesoriero and Nick Licata. Credit: Kendall Rodriguez

Jeanine Brogan teared up as she read a typed proposal in a folder handed to her by six of her late husband’s former students.

It was shortly after dinner around Christmas 2019. The men wanted to create a scholarship fund in honor of her husband, Jack Rice, a Bellmore-Merrick Central High School District teacher who died in 2016, and they wanted her to be a part of it.

"It’s like Jack coming to me through them," said Brogan, of Massapequa Park. It was an emotional night because of "the love behind it and the thought that they wanted to keep Jack’s memory alive."

The website of the nonprofit Jack Rice Memorial Scholarship Fund was launched last month. The group has raised more than $7,600. The first scholarship was awarded last May to Casey Fahrer, a graduating senior at Wellington C. Mepham High School in Bellmore.

The men, who graduated from Mepham in 1984, contributed the $1,000 that went to Fahrer.

Rice, who died at 67 from prostate cancer, taught in junior high schools and high schools in the Bellmore-Merrick district from 1971 to 2003, except for the school year between 1989 to 1990. He also worked as a cab driver, a tour guide, a barista and a newspaper writer and editor.

"He was an exemplary human being," said Nick Licata, of upstate Pine Bush.

To Licata and other former students who later became Rice’s lifelong friends, their teacher was a mentor and a role model.

"He seemed to have this amazing ability to appreciate things around him," said Gregg Penny, of North Merrick. "It’s not always the spectacular events but the little stuff that happen on the daily basis."

The men, who are now in their 50s, remembered Rice introducing them to New York City’s art museums, record shops and used bookstores that greatly expanded their horizons.

And he always listened, they said.

"When he’s talking to you, it’s the most important thing he was doing," said Mario Tesoriero, of Wantagh.

When Patrick Marzano was about 13, he told Rice one day after class that he had become interested in folk music. The next day, Rice brought in half a dozen records to loan to him.

"Anything that you had … expressed a passion for, if he could in any way relate to, he would try to bolster that," said Marzano, of Westerleigh, Staten Island.

Michael Bianco, who lives in Marshall, North Carolina, called him "the internet before there’s an internet."

Those who knew Rice said part of his legacy is embodied in the hundreds of picture frames and thousands of postcards he sent others.

"Countless people have framed pictures of a cover of The New Yorker magazine that Jack gave you because something about it made him think of you," said Ed Thompson, of Centerport.

Fahrer was chosen by the school to receive the scholarship, but future winners will be chosen by Brogan and the men who established the scholarship fund.

In addition to money, scholarship winners receive a book from Rice’s collection. The book Fahrer got was "My Ears Are Bent," by Joseph Mitchell. The group will also tell the graduate who Rice was.

"[It’s] not that we are trying to re-create who Jack was; just to acknowledge that he wasn’t the last," Marzano said.

JACK RICE MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP FUND

  • In addition to Jeanine Brogan, the group behind the scholarship is Michael Bianco, Gregg Penny, Ed Thompson, Mario Tesoriero, Patrick Marzano and Nick Licata.
  • The group said the annual scholarship will go to a graduating Mepham High School senior “who intends to major in Education, Journalism, Theatre or the Humanities and who exhibits an admirable sense of social consciousness.”

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