Henry Adams once wrote, "a teacher affects eternity: he can never tell where his influence stops."
For friends, colleagues and former students of South Brunswick educator , who died last week, the influence and legacy he left behind will continue to live on long after the tears for his loss have subsided. Valenti spent 37 years in South Brunswick as a math teacher, department chairperson, supervisor, and assistant principal.
"I always did well in high school except for math, which was a subject I always struggled with. I guess I developed a phobia my freshman year," said former South Brunswick Mayor Debra Johnson, who had Valenti as a teacher her sophomore year at . "When I took (Valenti's) class my sophomore year, he made me enjoy each day of class. He made it fascinating, not something to dread and just get through. He was by far one of the most excellent teachers I have ever had. He could make a student excel no matter what their background was because he made you enjoy it and he made you fall in love with the subject. He was just amazing."
Valenti passed away on March 23 at St. Peter's University Hospital in New Brunswick at the age of 65-years-old. He was born and raised in Perth Amboy and lived in Monroe since 1969.
Valenti started his career in education in 1968 as a math and science teacher at Colonia High School. A year later, he moved on to start his career at . After a 38-year career in education, Valenti retired in 2006.
Former SBHS Principal Tom Kietrys remembers Valenti as his "right-hand man," who was highly influential in creating a smooth transition during the construction of the new high school and subsequent addition.
"It was an honor to know Joe, because he was such an outstanding person and a calming influence," Kietrys said. "He oversaw the construction of the new building and handled it so smoothly. The staff went through almost no pain during that process because of the way he handled things. He was a calming influence. He also oversaw the new addition being put on.
"Joe was South Brunswick High School, there is no doubt about that. Joe's legacy as a person can't be separated from the building itself, because of the work he did to bring it to fruition."
Former colleague Lindy Mandy, who was an English teacher and guidance counselor at SBHS for over 30 years, said Valenti was not only a stellar administrator, but also a highly influential teacher.
"Joe was one of the most decent guys I have ever known. He had a fabulous sense of humor," Mandy said. "As a teacher he gave kids the confidence to really love math. He was patient and caring. Even though most of his career was spent as an assistant principal, he continued to tutor students. He always had that one-on-one connection. He never lost the ability to work hand-in-hand with kids."
Even during disagreements, Mandy said Valenti always stayed level headed and practical.
"He was so good at looking at the big picture to see new ways to approach a problem," she said. "He was very pragmatic, in that whatever solution he came up with could actually be implemented. He wasn't a pie-in-the-sky dreamer. Joe saw new ways to approach things that could be put into practice."
Kietrys said a scholarship fund has been set up in Valenti's name for students at SBHS.
Donations can be mailed to Nancy Valenti, 461 Spotswood-Englishtown Road, Monroe Township, 08831.
The scholarship to help future students of SBHS is a fitting tribute to Valenti for his former students, who said he influenced them in ways that will never be forgotten.
"His impact is still with me today because he taught me there is nothing to fear, that you can overcome anything, any subject if you put your mind to it," Johnson said. "He taught me if you apply yourself in life, there is nothing you can't overcome. He was one of those teachers who gave his students self-worth. His ability to reach and teach different people is something I've always admired and tried to emulate. I am so sorry for his passing."