When Michael Santopolo got out of the military after World War II and started teaching sixth grade in the Hewlett-Woodmere public schools, he had to wear his Army uniform for the first week because suits were still scarce due to the war effort.
Less than a decade later, Santopolo, the son of Italian immigrants who barely spoke English, rose to become superintendent of the district - the youngest superintendent on Long Island at the time, his family said. He went on to oversee the construction of the George W. Hewlett High School, the Woodmere Middle School and Ogden Elementary School.
"He made great changes in the community and was loved and cherished by so many for so many years. All members of the faculty and all children are certainly better off as a result of Dr. Santopolo's service," said Lawrence Franklin, a former president of the Hewlett-Woodmere school board who worked with Santopolo.
Santopolo died Oct. 16 at the age of 89, said his granddaughter, Jill Santopolo of Manhattan.
After he graduated as the valedictorian of his class at Queens College in 1942, Santopolo served in the U.S. Army from 1942 to 1946 in China, then-Burma and India. He was made an officer in 1944 and received the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal for his service.
While on home leave in 1945, he married Mildred Cleary, whom he had met at Queens College. She died in 1999.
Soon after Santopolo returned home permanently, he went to work in the Hewlett-Woodmere school district. Before long, he became assistant superintendent of the district. Meanwhile, he was studying for his doctorate in curriculum development at Columbia University's Teachers College. By 1954, he rose to the top spot in the district. Besides leading the construction projects, he also sold the property that formerly housed Woodmere Middle School South to a condominium company that returned it to the tax rolls.
After he retired in 1976, Santopolo moved to East Hampton. He served on the Springs school board and even worked briefly as interim superintendent.
In his free time he loved to fish. He also served as dockmaster at the Clearwater Beach Marina, and edited the power squadron newsletter "The Ensign."
Santopolo is also survived by his son, Dr. John Santopolo, and his wife, Beth Santopolo, and two grandchildren. Funeral services took place last week. His family said donations can be made in his name to the Michael V. Santopolo Scholarship Fund through the Hewlett-Woodmere School District's business office.