Tears fell along with raindrops, and sorrow mixed with warm memories and the music of a school marching band as streets near IS 24 on Staten Island were renamed on May 13 to honor two of the school’s teachers who were early victims of the coronavirus.
The joint ceremony was held six weeks after a similar tribute was paid to Anton Updale, a physical education teacher at the borough’s IS 34 who died at the start of the pandemic in April 2020.
Memorials to Sharon Nearby and Melissa Kruppa also were unveiled on IS 24’s interior wall and in the school’s garden before the gathering of colleagues, family and friends.
Both women are survived by their husbands and two children, all of whom were present.
Nearby, a 30-year ELA teacher, was known for “her devotion to her students,” said Nearby’s sister, Robin Weibel, a social studies teacher at the Great Kills school. “Just the way she would always put herself out there. She was their go-to person: She knew how to listen to them and guide them.”
She said Kruppa, who worked at the school for 17 years as a paraprofessional and special education teacher, “was kind, she was generous.”
Both educators, Weibel said, often worked with autistic students.
Updale, who is survived by his wife and three children, “instilled confidence and self-esteem in his students and also helped children with special needs lead more independent and productive lives,” his best friend, Ted Ericson, told the April 2 gathering for the renaming of the intersection of Foster Road and Darlington Avenue in Princes Bay, where Updale grew up, according to the Staten Island Advance.
UFT Treasurer Debra Penny, who chairs the Teachers’ Retirement System Board of Trustees and played a key role in getting state legislators to pass COVID-19 death-benefit legislation, attended the ceremony at IS 24.
Sharon Nearby, Penny recalled in an interview, “was the first COVID death we had. I called her husband. He cried, I cried.”
In his email inviting her to the street renaming, Jeff Nearby told Penny, “You allowed me to be able to not worry about money while I helped my twins cope with the loss of their mother. We have a secure future with funds for their college, health insurance and a path for me to retire.”
The legislation secures a COVID-related death-benefit pension and lifetime health benefits for the survivors of all the union’s members who die of the disease.