The late educator made a lasting impact at many levels of the community.
By Matt Skoufalos
Camden County Freeholder Director Louis Cappelli, Jr. remembers the greatest lesson his father and namesake taught him was to “live life to the fullest,” and the list of accomplishments at the end of Louis F. Cappelli’s 80-year life certainly reflects that.
A 53-year marriage that produced two children and seven grandchildren.
A 35-year administrative career at Triton Regional High School, plus another decade as the Collingswood Board of Education president, and years as a trustee of Camden County College and director at the Cerebral Palsy School and Treatment Center of Camden County.
Past presidencies of the statewide and local Lodges of the Order Sons of Italy. Countless hours spent volunteering with the Collingswood May Fair and parade committees.
“He always talked about being involved in your community; finding ways to make your community a better place to be,” Cappelli, Jr. said.
“That’s what he did through all of his activities,” he said. “That’s what he did for thousands of students. Have a positive attitude and it will rub off on other people.”
For the largeness of his public life, Cappelli was also remembered as a loving family man.
“He always put our family first and served as a great role model for my sister and me,” Cappelli, Jr. said. “He stayed on top of our studies; helped us with athletics. He was great to all my friends.
“He pretty much lived through my sister and me, and later in life through all of his grandchildren.”
Cappelli, Jr. said his father was someone who “lived by the Italian and Roman Catholic traditions,” from his enthusiasm as a homemade winemaker to his abiding love of Frank Sinatra.
Perhaps taking a page from the book of Italian revolutionary Guiseppe Garibaldi, Cappelli would wear a red shirt to school on Fridays, as Triton students remembered, to remind them to “stay off the stuff.”
Moments like those touched the lives of so many students, remembered Collingswood Mayor James Maley, that “Every place I went with Louis and his son, we would always bump into people who were graduates of Triton and just gushed about him.
“Plus, he did such great stuff for [Collingswood],” Maley said. “He’s been a great part of our community for a long time.”
Maley especially remembered Cappelli as an integral part of the Collingswood school board who, during some contentious years, “was really able to marshal everybody through and keep the ship on an even keel because of his stature and the respect everybody had for him.”
Collingswood Superintendent Scott Oswald echoed those sentiments, saying that Cappelli “took the Collingswood Board of Education forward by leaps and bounds,” negotiating differences of opinion with diplomacy and helping the body present a united front.
“What was important to him was always doing right by the kids,” Oswald said. “Anybody can walk around and say yes to everybody. It’s hard to say no. Sometimes the more difficult decisions are the right ones.
“You always knew where [Cappelli] stood,” he said. “He believed firmly that once a decision was made, the board stood together.”
Cappelli’s service to the board was such an integral part of the works that when he eventually decided to beg off, Oswald remembers having to “play his ace card” to bring the veteran educator back into the fold.
Under Cappelli’s tenure, the board first began to observe Columbus Day as a district holiday, which “as a proud Italian was important to him,” Oswald said. When board elections rolled around, and Cappelli’s petition wasn’t among those submitted, the superintendent called his sitting president to ask why.
“He told me it was time for somebody else, and I reminded him it would not be hard to open up on Columbus Day,” Oswald said. “Fifteen minutes later, I had a petition. [During elections], people went to the polls and he got more votes than anyone.”
Put more simply, Maley said, “We’re going to miss him. He was an ace.”
Cappelli passed on February 12, aged 80. He is survived by his wife Patricia (nee Dragone), son Louis Cappelli, Jr., daughter Lynne Ann and her husband Joseph Sireci, grandchildren Louis III, Gabrielle, John, Zachary, Julia, Mia, and Joseph, sisters Ida Fortini and Gloria Cappelli, brother-in-law Jerry McKee and sister-in-law Irene McKee. He was predeceased by his sisters Connie DiGiacomo and Virginia Fanelli.
Cappelli’s viewing will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. February 16 and from 9:45 to 10:45 a.m. February 17 at the Blessed of Teresa Calcutta Parish-St. John’s Church in Collingswood, where his burial mass will be performed at 11 a.m. on the 17th.
A scholarship fund in his honor has been established at the 1st Colonial Community Bank in Collingswood.