For Jerry F. Borrelli, teaching was more than a profession.
For the longtime science teacher from Stony Brook, it was a calling, a desire to share his knowledge and help others. Even in his 80s, ill in the hospital, Borrelli tutored his grandchildren in earth science, said his daughter Betsy Borrelli, of Manhattan.
“I enjoy giving to others,” he told his daughter. “It makes me happy to share my experience, intelligence, what I learned.”
Jerry F. Borrelli died April 21 at Good Shepherd Hospice in Port Jefferson after a long illness. He was 87.
Born in 1932 to Italian immigrants Antonio Borrelli and Vittoria Ramieri, Borrelli grew up in New Rochelle, where he attended the Blessed Sacrament Church's school. He thrived in football, baseball and track and was voted best athlete his senior year, his daughter said.
He joined the U.S. Navy Reserve and in 1953 was ordered to active duty. He studied anti-submarine warfare in Florida before being accepted to Hospital Corps School in Portsmouth, Virginia, where he graduated fourth in his class of more than 250. He served his last year and a half in the Navy at St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens doing heart and lung disease research.
Borrelli attended Iona College on the GI Bill, receiving a bachelor’s degree in science education. In 1959, he began teaching at Isaac E. Young Middle School in New Rochelle.
In September 1961, he met Elaine Crandall, a student teacher there. He asked the department chair to switch his lunch period so he could eat with her and the two chaperoned a student dance. By December they were engaged and by August 1962 they were married.
“He was a decisive guy,” Betsy Borrelli said with a laugh.
The couple, who went on to have five children, moved to Stony Brook in 1965, buying their first house among the dirt roads and potato farms for $21,000.
Borrelli began working as a science teacher at Huntington’s J. Taylor Finley Middle School, where he would remain for 26 years and serve as the science department chair before retiring in 1991.
Often named teacher of the year, he gave students lollipops for good answers, his daughter said. Wrong answers could earn treats if he “liked the way they were thinking.”
Teresa Rainone, 52, of East Setauket, who had Borrelli for biology, credits him with helping nurture a passion in science that led to her becoming a physician.
“He was one of those teachers who not only made the information interesting, but he was someone who showed you how to bring joy to whatever you were doing,” she said. “He made education come to life but also he made life come to life.”
Borrelli began taking classes at a Stony Brook University program where retirees taught retirees. Soon he was asked to teach.
Roger Price and his wife, Sheila, took astronomy, meteorology and geology with him.
“He was made to be a teacher,” said Roger Price, 81, of Elwood. “When he was in a classroom he got everyone excited about whatever he was teaching.”
They still find the education useful, even if just for “Jeopardy!”
“Whenever we get an answer right, we’ll yell out, ‘Thank you, Jerry Borrelli!’ ” Price said.
For many years, Borrelli also taught swimming. A devoted family man, he was a Girl Scout leader for a time. “He got so involved in whatever we did,” Betsy Borrelli said.
Borrelli was active in the Knights of Columbus and taught religion at Saints Philip and James Roman Catholic Church in St. James, where he also served as lector and other roles. Known as the “voice of God” for his strong, confident baritone, he remained humble.
“He would always say, ‘It’s not the messenger, it’s the message,’ ” his daughter said.
In addition to Betsy Borrelli, he is survived by his wife, Elaine Borrelli, of South Setauket; daughters Victoria Pawelczyk, of Stony Brook, and Deborah Townsend, of Greenlawn; son, Michael Borrelli, of Colorado Springs, Colorado; sister, Carmella Borrelli of New Rochelle; brother, Joseph Borrelli, of Flemington, New Jersey; and 13 grandchildren. He was predeceased by son Stephen Francis Borrelli, who had cerebral palsy, in 1969.
A funeral Mass was offered April 25 at Saints Philip and James, followed by burial at St. Patrick's Cemetery in Smithtown.