Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center Dedication Brings Laughter and Tears
Donate to the Betty Maddalena Foundation, a 501c3; Tax ID#46-1634454. To donate, make checks payable to “The Betty Maddalena Foundation,” and mail to P.O. Box 2378, Livingston, NJ 07039. All donations are tax deductible.
WEST ORANGE, NJ – The new Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center was dedicated on Oct. 9, 2017, on what would have been the beloved educator’s sixty-first birthday amid smiles, tears, and – as Betty would have wanted it – much laughter. The Center is located at the Life Christian Church, 747 Northfield Avenue.
In attendance at the dedication were members of Betty’s family including her brother, Dr. Louis J. Maddalena and his wife Joan, along with nephews Louis T. (with wife Marissa) and Matthew. Her parents, Louis and Elizabeth Maddalena, were unable to attend. Superintendent Jeff Rutzky, board members, members of the town council and other elected officials, district educators current and retired, and many loving friends were also present to celebrate and honor the spirit of a woman who loved helping others.
Assemblyman John McKeon served as Master of Ceremonies for the Dedication. Referencing his favorite film, “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” McKeon welcomed attendees noting, “This is Betty Maddalena’s Opus. I know she is here with us in spirit tonight.”
The West Orange School District named their new preschool after Betty Maddalena, a special needs teacher and educator for 33 years, who taught in West Orange for 26 years before her passing in 2011. Maddalena’s love for her students was special and garnered her the first New Jersey's Educator Medal of Honor Award in 2006 presented by Governor Jon S. Corzine.
“Betty strived to make every student better and she wanted to make sure students had the life and social skills they needed,” commented Board of Education President Sandra Mordecai, "and in 2012 when we developed that program at the high school, we named it the Betty Maddalena Life Skills Center."
She went on to describe the opening of the Center (thanks to the efforts of district parents and staff, who raised $30,000 in funds), which provides skill training to special needs students aged 18-21.
"We thank Betty's parents, family and friends for loaning her to us for a little bit...we all aspire to be a little more like her each day - selfless, or 'be a Betty' as we all say," Mordecai concluded.
Principal Dr. Joanne Pollara of Kelly Elementary School remembered Betty as a servant-leader.
"To be successful, there are four pillars on which you can build: Dedication, Devotion, Discipline and Determination. Betty Maddalena’s 33 years in education embodied each of these qualities," she explained.
"Betty gave the world the best she had every day of her life. For almost 25 years, Betty Maddalena was my colleague and my partner in learning," Pollara continued.
"She was an enthusiastic encourager who cheered for me when I was appointed Principal of what is now Kelly Elementary School and when I began my Doctoral studies. The greatest gift that Betty gave to me was the honor and blessing to call her my friend," she finished.
“I am so honored to speak tonight about a woman who meant the world to me, my best friend, Betty," said retired teacher and one of the founders of the Betty Maddalena Foundation, Patti VanCauwenberge.
“As you’ve heard tonight Betty’s passion was education, especially for her special needs students," VanCauwenberge continued.
"She has so many things named after her or in honor of her, but…. Nothing could make Bet smile more than the pizza named after her at Porta in Asbury Park. The Betty Pie! She loved to eat," she recounted as the audience broke into laughter.
"I describe Bet as someone you could have met for three seconds, and you felt like you were her best friend. She made everyone feel so special and important."
"Betty had another passion, and that was having a good time. She would light up a room as soon as she entered it with her amazing smile and sense of humor," VanCauwemberge recalled.
VanCauwenberge went on to recount Maddalena’s sense of humor, and as she told some of Betty's jokes she had her friends and family in stitches.
VanCauwenberge then presented the Betty Maddalena Foundation’s gift to the newly-dedicated preschool, a framed Mission Statement once hand-written by Maddalena herself.
“Betty will always be remembered by her friends and colleagues in the West Orange School District walking down the hallways with a smile on her face, a pencil behind her ear and a BlackBerry in her pocket,” remarked board member Laura Lab, who made the recommendation to the board to name the preschool after Maddalena.
“Betty walked the walk and truly cared about her students,” explained Lab, “and she was an advocate through and through.”
“I would not be here today without Betty Maddalena,” said Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center Principal Connie Salimbeno, “and I am just one life deeply impacted by her.”
"I am profoundly grateful for Betty's friendship and guidance and to the West Orange Board of Education and Superintendent Rutzky for giving me the opportunity to lead this amazing site and work with such a dedicated group of educators on a daily basis," she went on to say.
“It is a deep honor to be principal of the Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center and I hope to continue her advocacy,” she concluded.
“Betty, because we knew you, all our lives have been changed for good. Happy Birthday, Bet,” concluded VanCauwenberge.
The West Orange Board of Education has partnered with the the Betty Maddalena Foundation to raise funds for the construction of a new playground at the preschool. To donate, make checks payable to “The Betty Maddalena Foundation,” and mail to P.O. Box 2378, Livingston, NJ 07039. Donations are tax deductible as the BMF is a 501c3; Tax ID#46-1634454
To date the Foundation has donated two Smart Tables, 10 Pads and charging station and 66 stand-up desks to West Orange Public Schools and $5,000 to St. Philomena’s Aquinas Academy.
See all the photos from the dedication here.
To find out more about the pizza Betty was so excited to have named after here at Porta restaurant in Asbury Park, go here.
Retired Redwood Phys. Ed. teacher and member of the
Betty Maddalena Foundation, Patti VanCauwenberge, gifts
the preschool with "Betty's Mission Statement."
Dr. Joanne Pollara, Principal of Kelly Elementary, shares about Betty Maddalena.
Master of Ceremonies, Assemblyman John McKeon.
West Orange Superintendent Jeff Rutzky and Betty Maddalena Early Learning Center
Principal Connie Salimbeno.
The Maddalena Family (L-R) Nephew Louis, sister-in-law Joan,
brother Louis, nephew Louis and wife Marissa.
Board of Education members Ron Charles, Mark Robertson,
Laura Lab, President Sandra Mordecai and Vice-President Irv Schwarzbaum.
Betty's Mission Statement