Anthony D. Stagliano, a longtime teacher and coach in Cherry Hill, a civic activist and volunteer in Merchantville, and a loyal alumnus of Northeast High School in Philadelphia, died Friday after a long battle with Lewy Body Dementia. He was 84.
Following his 1990 retirement after 27 years as a health and physical education teacher at Cherry Hill's Brainerd Junior High School (now Carusi Middle School), Mr. Stagliano became immersed in civic affairs. He organized the annual Merchantville Christmas parade for 15 years, and was active in the borough's public events committee. He also managed the Erlton Swim Club.
But perhaps his biggest achievement was spearheading an effort in the late 1980s to transform an abandoned rail line that bisected the borough into a public park. He attended nearly every Borough Council meeting for more than two years to encourage council to endorse the beautification project, said his wife of 44 years, Roberta Stagliano.
"They looked at him like he had two heads, but he just kept at it," she said. The popular mile-long walking and cycling trail is now known as the Merchantville Mile.
Following the death of his son, Christian, in 1992, Mr. Stagliano dedicated himself to the construction of a gazebo in the park at Centre and Chestnut Streets, she said.
"He decided to do something to work out his grief," said his wife, who is known as Bobbi. "To the town, the gazebo is a nice entrance into the town. For him, it was a memorial to his son, Chris."
He became active in grief counseling in his retirement years, and Mr. Stagliano served on the steering committee of the Camden County chapter of The Compassionate Friends Inc., a nonprofit support group for people who have suffered a loss.
Mr. Stagliano was born in Philadelphia and graduated in 1951 from Northeast High School, and remained fiercely loyal to the school. He served as president of the school's Alumni Association, and was named Northeaster of the Year in 1991.
He was a multisport athlete in high school, participating in football, track, boxing and swim team. After he broke his nose and suffered a concussion playing football, his mother permitted him to continue playing only if coaches outfitted his helmet with a face mask, which was then uncommon.
"He was the first player in Philadelphia public schools to wear a face mask," said his wife.
He served in the U.S. Army and worked for the Philadelphia Department of Recreation before graduating from West Chester University in 1960. He took the teaching job in Cherry Hill in 1963, where he also coached wrestling and track at Brainerd and freshman football at Cherry Hill High School West.
Mr. Stagliano was such a proficient athlete that during his time in the U.S. Army near the end of the Korean War, he was assigned to a boxing troupe that entertained soldiers. He also played semipro football for the Magnolia-Bridesburg team in the 1950s.
But given current knowledge of the long-term dangers of concussions, his wife now wonders if Mr. Stagliano's time on the football field and in the boxing ring contributed to the onset of the Lewy Body Dementia, a progressive brain condition similar to Alzheimer's disease. He was diagnosed with the condition about ten years ago, she said, and it became severe during his last three years of life.
In addition to his wife, survivors include sons Mark and Michael ; sister Nanci Redecker; former wife, Loretta Burrows; and four grandchildren.
Services: Visitation will be held Thursday at 9 a.m. at Trinity United Methodist Church, 36 W. Maple Ave., Merchantville, followed by a service at 11 a.m.