By Philip Downes
The Levittown community continues their remembrances of Michael Verdi of East Meadow, an impactful Levittown Public Schools English teacher, who died on Sept. 22 and is survived by his wife, two daughters and son.
Mike Verdi—known for his dedication to family, students and athletes—was 45 when he passed away unexpectedly. The loss came as the Levittown Public Schools’ academic year was beginning, where Verdi was scheduled to teach research skills and college literature at Division Avenue High School.
Wake services were held for Verdi on Sept. 28 and 29, and a funeral mass was held on Sept. 30 at St. Raphael’s Roman Catholic Parish in East Meadow. He now rests at Holy Rood Cemetery in Westbury.
“A man of character” is the phrase used by many in Levittown to describe Michael Verdi, including generations of students and faculty members in the many expressions of honor after news of his death spread.
Verdi was an educator in the Levittown Public Schools for more than a decade and taught a range of English courses at both Division Avenue High School and MacArthur High School, including multiple grade levels of English, journalism and literature.
In addition to his in-classroom commitments, Verdi served as a faculty advisor for more than 10 student clubs at Division Avenue, including the Dragon Tales student newsletter and the peer leaders, a group that he also worked with to organize a “Drive Safe” school-wide assembly in 2017 as a part of the “Levittown Educators Against Destructive Decisions Week.”
Verdi served as the assistant coach of the varsity softball team at Division Avenue and coached the junior varsity girls basketball squad at MacArthur High School.
His commitment to student involvement extended past the teams he coached. Verdi was also an active supporter of the many teams and clubs that students can participate in at DAHS, such as chaperoning athletic events, coordinating the SAT exams, as well as hosting the annual school-wide Spirit Night with an unmatched enthusiasm that roared the gymnasium of Division Avenue for many years.
Ryan Kenney, 22, a former student of Verdi’s at Division Avenue High School (Class of 2015) and a current nursing student at Molloy College, is a driving force in a group of former students who are organizing efforts to remember Verdi and to help his surviving family.
“I never before knew why I wanted to pursue nursing, but I always knew I wanted to help others,” Kenney said, reflecting on Verdi’s impact. “I find myself writing essays for hospital placements and the question I keep getting asked most is ‘Why do you want to be a nurse?’ And what I want to respond to these essays is ‘Because I want to be just like Mr. Verdi was as a teacher to me, but as a nurse to my patients.’”
That group of mostly DAHS alumni from several graduating classes has helped garner support for the Verdi family and has helped these alumni stay in touch about different services, support events and t-shirt orders, allowing the members to help as much as possible.
Kenney’s words are echoed by many of the family, friends, students and fellow teachers that survive him. A surge of support and kind words have been shared on the internet in honor of Verdi via social media and the O’Shea Funeral Homes obituary webpage, among other places.
“Mike Verdi was a special person,” Levittown Public Schools Superintendent Tonie McDonald said. “Words can never express how much he will be missed. I am lucky to have known him. God bless his family.”
Similar sentiments can be seen from Verdi’s coworkers as the faculty of Division Avenue High School mourns the loss of one of their great members. Some have chosen to share letters Verdi had written to inspire his students, an act Verdi is remembered dearly for.
Amidst the grieving, those who knew Verdi’s influence on the community are cherishing the many lessons and good times that he was able to share. Kristina Spano, a Class of 2017 Division Avenue alumna, spoke about Verdi as an inspiration to the many people he knew in his life.
“Verdi’s character lives within Division and every person he impacted,” Spano said. “Everyone should inspire to have a little bit of Verdi in them.”
Phillip Downes, a Levittown native, is the managing editor of the Albany Student Press at the University at Albany.