Ciao Pittsburgh’s Personality Profile series on current and former Pittsburghers continues this month as we learn a little about Jerrold Vincent Anthony Rispoli, a local teacher, originally from Long Island, NY, who specializes in special education. Jerrold discussed what being Italian means to him and shares with us his Italian background as well as some of his favorite Italian traditions.
CP: First, tell us a little bit about yourself, your family, and what you do for a living?
Jerrold: My wife and I are the parents of three children—Nick, 13, Anna Marie, 11, and Joseph Vincent, 8. Our boys play baseball for the Shaler Thunder Travel Baseball Team. Nick plays for the 13U team and Joe plays 9U. We have great kids and great families and great coaches who enjoy being together. I coach both of their teams as well as keep the fields maintained and looking good.
The most rewarding part is that I get to see kids develop and mature into fundamentally sound baseball players. Most are learning respect for the game and to represent themselves and their family through sport. My daughter, Anna, loves music and enjoys her clubs/programs including Girls on the Run and the Sarah Heinz House. She is my special girl and is the sweetest child I know. She loves watching her brothers play ball and gets very angry when umpires make bad calls during the ball games.
We also have an awesome pug named Rocco who is currently on vacation visiting his cousin Biff in Conneaut Lake. As a teacher, I specialize in Special Education. I love my job and enjoy the people who I work with. I have great principals and colleagues.
CP: What do you find to be the most rewarding aspect of your career?
Jerrold: Just like my coaching experiences and seeing kids grow, the single most rewarding aspect of my teaching career is when kids “get it.” What we call in the business “getting it” is the relationship between hard work and effort producing good work and earning good grades. Unfortunately, we cannot reach all the kids but the ones we do make it all worthwhile.
Jerrold: I am born and raised in Long Island, New York. The town we grew up in had many Italian families who came in from Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx and Manhattan. We had access to all the great food (especially seafood). We were minutes from Guy Lombardo Blvd in Freeport, NY. Here, all the boats brought in their catch for the day, including crabs, lobster, mussels, eels, tile fish, bluefish and octopus. Needless to say, we would visit their almost every week.
Growing up, my brother and I were involved in sports—football, baseball and lacrosse. My Mom and Dad came to all of our games. My Mom (who we lost in 1988) is from Pittsburgh which made my decision to go to Duquesne University an easy one. I was able to live with my grandparents during Graduate School. They were wonderful people who really guided and supported me. I am very thankful for them.
In Graduate School, I met my wife and we started a family. We began our teaching careers in Montgomery County, MD. After 5 years, we moved to Shaler, PA to be closer to family. We have been in Shaler for the last 10+ years.
CP: Can you tell us about your Italian heritage?
Jerrold: My father Girolanco (changed to Jerry) was one of 11 children born in Hells Kitchen (Manhattan) to Vincenzo and Anna. Both of his parents came to America through Ellis Island from Siderno, Reggio Calabria. I had many aunts and uncles and a ton of cousins who lived fairly close. We spent time with family for all holidays and learned about all the family traditions and who was who. We saw how they interacted which in turn taught us that it was okay to kiss and hug and be open express your feelings. I remember most of the stories and laugh. Overall, we grew to understand that being Italian was a pretty cool thing… I remember wearing my t-shirt “Italia e numero uno.” We were taught to believe this and it stuck.
Jerrold: Growing up I loved all holidays (Especially Christmas and New Years). We had many family gathering and transformed our neighbor into an extended family through our celebrations that always included a ton of food and wine (as we got older). We made wine every year. We got together and celebrated this process. As a kid I remember the whole house smelling of wine. Also, we would have pasta each Sunday. We all had our area around the table and had to use all of our manner and be respectful of one another. I remember getting into argument during football and baseball season because i did not want to participate in family dinners ( but Dad always won out).
CP: What does being Italian mean to you?
Jerrold: My “Italianess” became pretty important to all of us (2 sisters and 1 brother) as we saw my father become the leader of our family. Once our mother passed away, we saw him instill a strong belief system that can be only characterized as Italian—family, respect, food and fun. He was not a strict disciplinarian. Amongst my siblings, the common objective with all of our decision-making was affected by not wanting to disappoint Dad. Further, when I speak with other’s who had strong Italian fathers, this was the common theme.
CP: What accomplishments in life are you most proud of?
Jerrold: I really love being a father. I love raising my kids and giving them what they need to be successful. This does not mean giving them everything they want. I also am proud of being a good son. When my father passed away last March, I felt like I wanted to spend his last couple of months with him. I am pleased I was able to do this.
CP: What are some of your favorite hobbies?
Jerrold: As mentioned previously, I really like seeing my boys learn to be better ball players and develop because of their involvement in all sports. We really do not have an off season. The boys play football in the fall, wrestling and basketball in the winter, and baseball in the spring and summer.
I enjoy cooking and eating (too much sometimes). I joke with many of my friends that we had a lot of practice growing up. Many, if not all, activities were centered around food. It was not only the eating part but the preparation. Each of my siblings and I seem to have this interest. As we came down the steps in the morning, I can visualize Dad (or Pops as my brother and I called him) sitting with his bifocals cutting up garlic or chopping vegetables and driving us all crazy asking “what are we gonna eat today?” The house always smelled great. The look of pride on his face when we were all together is burned in my head forever.
CP: Who in your life has inspired you the most?
Jerrold: Clearly my father, whom we lost a little over a year ago to cancer. He was the strongest man I knew and was always encouraging and accepting to all. He treated people correctly and was an extremely talented artist (an architectural draftsman).
I had many good coaches as well such as my junior high school baseball coach Daniel Viafore. I love that man and still see him on trips back to Long Island. He is now retired from teaching and works on the boats and in the local bait shop in Wantagh and Freeport. When I seem him it is as if I never left. We still have the same regard for one another. He was a large reason I became an educator and a coach.
CP: What else would you like our readers to know about you?
Jerrold: I enjoy Pittsburgh’s Italian Culture and love Bloomfield and Lawrenceville. I routinely come across people who were born and raised in these parts and share my experiences growing up where I did. Many of our experiences are similar which goes to show if you are Italian, you are doing okay!