WOONSOCKET – On the eve of graduation, it was part farewell present from seniors, part memorial tribute to a beloved educator gone too soon. And it will last forever.
In a touching ceremony on the grounds of Woonsocket High School, the city dedicated the school’s circular entry road to the late Athletic Director George Nasuti.
Along with Nasuti’s wife, Carol, and his sister, Debra Moylan, some 500 students, educators and city officials cheered as a highway laborer scaled a ladder to affix the appropriate signage to a utility pole at the foot of the road. In gold lettering against a maroon background – the school colors – it says, “The George Nasuti Way – Have Respect, Get Respect” – words that pay homage to his personal credo and oft-voiced advice to others.
“You all recall everything he’s done and probably have a story to tell of how he affected your life,” Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt said to the crowd as she stood beneath the sign. “This is to make sure we never forget that.”
The longtime administrator, athlete and sports booster was refereeing a basketball came in Burrillville this winter when he fell and struck his head on the gym floor. He lapsed into a coma and passed away on Feb. 11, four days later. He was just 52 years old.
Students formed a human chain about the perimeter of the ring road and handed the Nasuti sign off to each other, relay style, starting and ending with Mrs. Nasuti, before it was affixed to the previously bare pole. A traffic island at the base of the fixture also got a new coat of maroon paint for the occasion.
“I think this is great,” said senior Jonathan Flynn, 19, who graduates tomorrow. “I think Mr. Nasuti would be proud of us.”
Jayde Jarry, another senior, said Nasuti is most often remembered for his support of school sports programs, but he was more well-rounded than he usually gets credit for. She said he was just as enthusiastic about promoting the arts and humanities. He was also active in numerous outside civic endeavors.
“Mr. Nasuti had a big impact on a lot of people’s lives,” she said. “This is a way of saying thanks for everything he did. It shows his family how much we thought of him and it helps get them through it a bit.”
Nasuti’s relatives choked back tears after taking part in the memorial service.
“I knew people loved him,” said Moylan. “But I didn’t know it was this much.”
In addition to the sign affixed to the pole, Baldelli-Hunt made a duplicate which she presented as a gift to Nasuti’s wife.
“This is such an honor,” she said, holding the sign up after its circular journey about the throng of students. Her husband would be pleased, but also embarrassed by all the attention, she added, cutting her comments short to keep from crying.
While Baldelli-Hunt ran with the idea for dedicating the school entryway to Nasuti, she gave all the credit for conceiving it to a high school junior, Tayla Sevigny, 16, the daughter of retired Woonsocket police detective Paul Sevigny.
Sevigny said she got the idea from Mount St. Charles Academy, which names one of its campus access roads after the legendary hockey coach Bill Belisle. Woonsocket High, she said, should lionize its own heroes the same way.
“I thought, why not do it for Mr. Nasuti?” she said.
Her father said Tayla first mentioned her idea to the mayor when they met at the scene of a recent fire that damaged a business in Park Square. “The mayor said, ‘I’ll think about that. Let me get back to you,’” the former detective recalled.
A who’s who of city officials, including members of the City Council, the state legislature and the School Committee, joined students for the ceremony. There were also a number of firefighters, police officers and educators in the crowd, including many, like WHS Principal Lynne Bedard, who donned the maroon T-shirts, hoodies and other gear emblazoned with Nasuti’s name that have become fashionable of late in local academic circles.
Mrs. Nasuti said the clothing was produced to raise money for the scholarship fund she launched in her husband’s name after his death. She said the George Nasuti Memorial Scholarship Fund has also taken in considerable sums from the sale of bracelets, special events, and in the form of private donations.
She wouldn’t say how much money has been raised to date, but Nasuti called it “a good amount.” She said her aim is to maintain a perpetual revolving fund to pay for summer camperships and scholarships every year in her husband memory. This year, she said, the fund has already paid for 18 week-long camperships offered through the YMCA and four $1,000 scholarships for college-bound seniors.
“We continue to raise money,” she said.
Follow Russ Olivo on Twitter @russolivo