Vincenzo Maio, a longtime foreign-language teacher in the Bethpage district,...

Vincenzo Maio, a longtime foreign-language teacher in the Bethpage district, was active in the Italian American community. Credit: Maio family

Proms. Graduations. Any celebration he was invited to. Vincenzo Maio was there for them all.

Maio taught Italian at Bethpage High School for decades. Outside his classroom, he could be seen on the sidelines, cheering on student athletes. He also took students on field trips to Manhattan's Little Italy, and Rockefeller Center to see the tree lighting around Christmas. He created the San Giuseppe Festival at school, held on St. Joseph's Day in March, where teens and parents celebrated Italian culture.

Maio, who lived in Nassau County, died June 7 at age 79. His family said they didn’t yet know the cause of death.

Maio did not marry and had no children. “His students were his children,” said Christopher Passalacqua, who met Maio in the 1970s when Passalacqua was a high schooler in Bethpage.

Affectionately known as Signor or Sig, Maio taught at the high school for 46 years, from 1966 until his retirement in 2012.

“Signor Maio was one of the few people I know that touched not only my life but probably thousands of lives,” said Passalacqua, of Bethpage. “He was beloved by thousands of people, students and … their families.”

Maio was inducted into the Bethpage Hall of Fame, which recognizes the accomplishments of alumni and staff, in 2016.

“He was beloved more than anybody I have ever seen in a classroom,” said former district Superintendent Terence Clark, who lives in South Carolina.

Maio was born in Glen Cove on July 20, 1944, to Pellegrino Maio and Leonilda Mazzeo Maio, who emigrated from Benevento, Italy, according to his nephew, Bobby Martyna, of Colorado.

Maio, who spoke with an Italian accent, “relished in his own Italian-ness,” said former student Michael Perreca, of Brooklyn. Perreca said Maio wanted his students to develop a cultural appreciation.

“I think he probably was aware that we could be a little isolated on Long Island and could have just stayed in the bubble of Long Island,” Perreca said. “He was really just saying, 'Look, Europe is right there,' or 'Manhattan is right there — let's go see.' And we did.”

Some students developed a friendship with him after they graduated from high school, inviting him to their milestone events.

“He attended more weddings than anybody else,” Clark said.

At Christmastime and Easter, Maio would mail presents to many across the country, his former students said — plush toys, Italian sweets and delicacies. He also dropped off cakes at people’s houses when they lived close. His favorite bakery was Dortoni in Levittown.

A deeply religious man, Maio attended daily Mass before he became homebound and watched Masses online, according to those who knew him. They said he was a thoughtful, generous man who often put others before himself.

“He wouldn't want to talk about himself,” said Passalacqua, who stayed in touch with Maio in the decades after he left high school. “He would rather hear about how you were doing. He cared more about how others were doing than himself.”

They all marveled at his memory.

“He had a memory like no other. He could tell you when kids graduated 35 years ago. He knew their parents, their grandparents,” Clark said. “He was our answer to Facebook before Facebook.”

A fund-raising page created in 2023 collected more than $51,000 for Maio, from nearly 450 donations, to help cover medical and care costs after he had a fall.

Maio is survived by two sisters, Elsa Martyna, of Westchester, and Elya Borgia, of Salem, Oregon. A funeral Mass was offered June 12 at St. Brigid Catholic Church in Westbury. Burial was in St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale. 

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