Tina J. Angelini, 87, of Glassboro, a teacher and a child of immigrants who saw public school and advanced education as the path to a better future, died Monday, July 31, of heart failure at her home.

Tina J. Angelini
Courtesy of the family
Tina J. Angelini

Mrs. Angelini came relatively late in life to her 25-year career as a second-grade teacher, and later as a reading specialist, in the Glassboro School District.

She enrolled in what was then Glassboro State College at age 38 to earn a bachelor's degree. In 1972, she began teaching second grade at the Academy Street School, and was much-loved and respected, said fellow teacher Phyllis Bullock-Beaufait, who taught third grade there and knew Mrs. Angelini for 24 years.

"I was thrilled when I received students from her second grade," Bullock-Beaufait wrote in an online tribute. "She was an excellent teacher, instilling the love of learning, as well as respect for one another in her students."

An energetic, enthusiastic figure who expected her students to learn in unusual ways, Mrs. Angelini regularly arranged for college professors to come to her classroom to talk about such diverse topics as astronomy and biology.

She received a master's degree in reading from Glassboro State in 1977, and worked as a basic skills and reading teacher at Dorothy L. Bullock Elementary School, forming special bonds with her most difficult students, her family said. She retired as a second-grade teacher in the mid-1990s, when she began to experience the symptoms of Parkinson's disease.

"Our mom helped many children and enjoyed friendships with the staff members of Academy Street School and Bullock School," her family said. "She worked very hard and loved every minute of her teaching career."

A lifelong Glassboro resident, the former Tina Trifiletti was the youngest of five children born just after the stock market crash of 1929 to Sicilian immigrants, who struggled to eke out a living. Her mother took in piecework to turn out on a sewing machine.

As a child, Mrs. Angelini worked summers with her four brothers and sisters, picking string beans and other vegetables on a truck farm for which her father supplied labor.

"Our mom didn't tell many life stories, like our dad did," said Nora J. Hessel, one of her three daughters. "She was a doer rather than a talker. But I will never forget this early memory she shared with me: At a very young age, our mom saw her mother collapsed over her sewing machine, sobbing. The family could not make ends meet, even with my grandmother taking in extra sewing work. Our grandmother was tired and despondent. The Great Depression was harsh on the Trifilettis and many, many hardworking families."

But Mrs. Angelini quickly grasped that the key to advancement lay in a public school education.

"Tina took full advantage of that from day one," Hessel said. "When she entered school, our mother couldn't speak English, but her intelligence and determination ensured her academic success. By age 18, she graduated high school with honors and was voted 'most likely to succeed' by her peers."

Her goal was to attend college, but her family was old-school. College was meant for the boys, Hessel said.

For a time, Mrs. Angelini worked as a secretary with the IRS in Philadelphia.

She met Dominic J. Angelini, a World War II veteran and commercial artist, at a dance at the St. Anthony's Society in Glassboro. They married in 1953.

"Tina's determination showed in her homemaking skills," Hessel said. "She kept an immaculate house, sewed, and knitted. She was an artist in the kitchen, an instinctive cook, like her mother. If you ever had a chance to try her ethereal meatballs, you'd know what I am talking about. She enjoyed baking, too, making many batches of chocolate chip cookies. She was famous for her pineapple cheese pie."

The Angelinis remained together for 64 years until her husband's death on July 1.

Mrs. Angelini passed down her love of education to her daughters, two of whom have careers in education. She continued to take courses, earning 30 credits beyond her advanced degree.

"She got addicted to college," Hessel said.

In her spare time, Mrs. Angelini enjoyed watching TV cooking shows, Turner Classic Movies, and Jeopardy! "My father said that she knew practically all the answers," Hessel said.

In addition to her daughter, Mrs. Angelini is survived by daughters Christine Tanfani and Susan Zitkevitz; four grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

Funeral services were Monday, Aug. 7. Interment was in St. Bridget's Cemetery in Glassboro.

Memorial donations may be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research, www.michaeljfox.org.