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Joseph Brigandi, Glassboro leader, sub-shop owner

Joseph Brigandi Sr. found more than one way to serve the people of Glassboro. The first was academic; the second, gastronomic.

Joseph Brigandi Sr.
Joseph Brigandi Sr.Read more

Joseph Brigandi Sr. found more than one way to serve the people of Glassboro.

The first was academic; the second, gastronomic.

During 24 years on the Glassboro Board of Education, the last six as president, Mr. Brigandi was a force behind several nationally validated reading and writing programs in the 2,300-student district. He was pivotal in getting a grade school built. And he negotiated teachers' and administrators' contracts.

But there was another post he held nearly twice as long - behind the counter at Joe's Sub Shop. From 1960 to 2002, he was the hoagie source for locals, U.S. presidents, college professors, and undergraduates, who often got a side of fatherly advice.

On Sunday, Dec. 9, the man many called "Mr. Glassboro" died at age 88 of complications of diabetes and heart failure at the Shady Lane Nursing Home in Clarksboro.

In retirement, Mr. Brigandi was named to an unpaid seat on the Gloucester County Improvement Authority, of which he became chairman. A centerpiece project was the takeover and reconstruction of Shady Lane, the severely deteriorated county facility. It was there, in the spanking-new complex, that he spent the last months of his life.

Save for a hitch in the Army, Mr. Brigandi hewed close to his hometown. Born to poor Italian immigrants, he had to leave high school for farm work. Only in the 1970s would he receive his GED.

He found work as a truck driver at the Mobil Oil refinery in Paulsboro, but left in 1943 to join the Army's 11th Airborne Battalion and served in the Philippines. He returned home in 1946 and got back behind the wheel at Mobil, staying 18 years.

Then, Joe's Sub Shop went up for sale. Its owner, also named Joe, had died.

Mr. Brigandi "was very passionate about food," said his son, Joe Jr. "He not only loved to prepare it, but he liked serving it to people, talking to them, being around them. And he felt he could better himself by being in business."

In a town with just a few eateries, the market was captive, particularly among students at Glassboro State, later Rowan University.

"He cashed their personal checks, helped them out with problems," said his son, who is borough administrator. "He became a stepfather to so many of them."

The Class of 1968 dedicated its yearbook to him.

Mr. Brigandi served an assortment of elected officials, including two presidents. During the 1967 Glassboro Summit on U.S.-Soviet relations, President Lyndon B. Johnson consumed his hoagies. And in 1986, when President Ronald Reagan spoke at Glassboro High's commencement, Mr. Brigandi fed the entire three-helicopter entourage.

He threw in a couple of Joe's T-shirts for the Reagans, who sent a thank-you note. Though a lifelong Democrat, Mr. Brigandi was moved to create an Italian sub specialty, the Presidential, that stayed on the menu until he sold Joe's in 2002.

In the early 1970s, he was approached by a group of residents and teachers who prevailed on him to run for a three-year term on the then-volatile school board. He won in 1972 and kept on winning until he decided in 1996 to run no more.

During his tenure, several nationally known reading and writing programs were implemented. The Dorothy L. Bullock School was built, and many district contracts were settled, with Mr. Brigandi - once a union leader at Mobil - as chief negotiator. In 2006, the Glassboro Intermediate School dedicated its gym in his name.

He was a member of St. Anthony's Mutual Aid Society, of which his parents were founders; the Knights of Columbus; and the Church of St. Bridget.

In addition to his son, he is survived by his wife of 65 years, Pauline; daughter Joanne; son Paul; three grandchildren; two sisters; and a brother.

A viewing will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, and after 9:30 a.m. Friday, Dec. 14, at the Church of St. Bridget, 125 Church St., Glassboro, N.J. 08028. A Funeral Mass will follow at 11.

Donations may be made to the Joseph Brigandi Sr. Scholarship, Gloucester County College Foundation, 1400 Tanyard Rd., Sewell, N.J. 08080, or St. Bridget's Church Elevator Fund.