VIDEO: A candlelight service took a poignant turn when students — in sweet harmony — sang a rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand By Me,” in memory of beloved Union City High School teacher Jack O’Connor.
Gathered outside the high school Tuesday night, the culturally diverse group shared their grief, love, and devotion for a unique man who clearly shaped so many lives for the better.
Several people spoke, respectfully, tearfully, lovingly.
“The vigil tonight was bittersweet,” Mimi Vega wrote afterward. “You’ve left a lot of broken hearts here Mr. O’Connor. I miss you terribly already.”
O’Connor, a graduate of the prestigious Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, died over the weekend.
ALSO SEE: Beloved Union City educator taught students to believe in themselves: Jack O’Connor is being remembered with intense love and affection by hundreds of former students whose lives he touched. “He was a true man’s man,” former student John ODonnell Rosales said of one of Union City’s most popular educators.
Services at Leber Funeral Home (Kennedy Blvd and 21st Street) are from 2 to 5 and 7 to 9 p.m. today, followed by an 11 a.m. funeral Mass tomorrow (NOTE: Previous reports said 10:30).
An English and Journalism teacher, O’Connor gave tirelessly, staging school plays and advising editors of Union Hill High’s newspaper and television station. Union City school officials awarded the 35-year-old educator “Teacher of the Year” honors for the 2009-2010 school year.
He is survived by his brother, Michael O’Connor; his aunt, Sister Mary Ann O’Connor of Spring Lake; aunts Ronnie Formosa and Ava Bruni of Fort Lee and Nicholas Ettore of Massachusetts, as well as many cousins.
In truth, however, he is survived by hundreds of students who this week are carrying heavy hearts.
“You were the first person I called when I found out I was making my Broadway debut in the fall,” 19-year-old Allison Strong wrote on a sprawling Facebook tribute page that serves as a loving, organic memorial. “You were the first person who called and left me a condolence message when my grandma passed away.
“Like you said in my graduation card, you were my Triton and I was your Ariel,” Strong added. “[I] feel just that much closer to heaven having loved you, known you, been taught by you…”
“Last year, after ‘Smokey Joe’s,’ I convinced myself that I would never do another stinkin’ musical for school,” Arianna Cummings wrote.
“I felt like I was the worst singer/performer on stage, but this year when you and Mrs. Alvarez pushed me to audition, you’ve helped me transition into who I am today. You always gave me chance after chance to improve myself…you believed in me.”
Even fellow educators, such as Linda Antenucci, were moved to contribute.
“You are now on the biggest stage there is and you will always be a shining star,” she wrote.
Then there are the former students, who have swelled the chorus to hundreds of hearts strongs, all offering expressions both graceful and touching.
“Yours was an unselfish life,” wrote Andy Acebo. “You were a man of character and of resolve. Your life served to… foster ambition in us. I thank you for challenging me, for instilling a desire to never delve into despair when greatness appears beyond my reach because higher ground is always just a few steps away.
“You shined bright…you were one of a kind. You belong to the stars now. As Shakespeare once penned and you once voiced ‘you will make the face of heaven so fine that all the world will be in love with night and pay no worship to the garish sun’.
“Thank you, Jack.”
The family asks that donations be made in lieu of flowers to the Union City High School/Jack O’Connor Scholarship Fund. 201.330.8678
It says so much about O’Connor that his students, and former students, have tapped their creativity to produce tributes such as this: PERSONALITY / IN MEMORY OF JACK O’CONNOR
Here is yet another that stands out:
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