MY UNCLE, PUCK SARDELLA

04Aug07

Joseph “Puck” Sardella was my uncle. He was my father’s kid brother. I was his first nephew and he was my godfather. In Italian families, especially of Puck’s generation, that meant something. As a kid, I knew him as Uncle Joe. But as I grew up and became an adult, I learned that to the rest of the world he was “Puck.” Eventually, I too, thought of him more and more as “Puck.” It was less confusing that way, and besides, he was no ordinary Joe. He was Puck, and he was one of a kind.

Puck died in his hometown of Wakefield, Massachusetts on Sunday, November 20, 2005 at age 81.

Puck married later in life and had no kids of his own, but over the years, I learned that he was like an uncle and a benevolent godfather to hundreds—more likely thousands—of Wakefield kids. First as a custodian in the Wakefield school department, and later as the truant officer, if you grew up in Wakefield in the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies or Eighties, you knew Puck.

During Puck’s tenure as a school custodian, students who accumulated an excessive number of detention hours at Wakefield High School would often be given three choices: be suspended, serve the hours into the summer, or work them off doing custodial work under Puck’s supervision. You can guess which option many of these kids chose.

“He saved me a lot of hours,” one now middle-aged man recalled at Puck’s wake. These students undoubtedly also learned a few life lessons from Puck along the way—that their actions had consequences, and that there were worse things than hard work. Puck never held the title “Guidance Counselor,” but he provided guidance and a positive role model for lots of kids who would never have listened to anyone else.

“Puck turned a lot of kids around,” observed one of Puck’s long-time friends, explaining that because of Puck’s influence, many kids that could have gone either way chose the straight and narrow. They just couldn’t disappoint Puck.

Puck was born in 1924, and grew up in Wakefield during the Great Depression. Times were hard, but unlike some of his contemporaries, Puck did not grow up bitter. His positive outlook and upbeat disposition were part of his nature. He seemed to have an inborn understanding that, no matter what happened, it was just part of life.

Because he was honest and fair and the ultimate straight-shooter, when Puck changed careers, he became the ultimate contradiction: a popular truant officer. My cousin (and Puck’s nephew), Jack Giambarresi said it best in his heart-rending eulogy at Puck’s funeral. “Students that were on his daily ‘hit list’ as truant officer are among his closest friends,” Jack said. “His goal was to have students go to school, not to discipline them for truancy. Good intent was always the prime concern for Puck.”

One thing that I will always remember about Puck was his devotion to his family, especially his loyalty to his mother, my grandmother.

When Grammy suffered a stroke late in life, she was permanently paralyzed on one side of her body. For the remaining years of her life, Puck visited his mother every single day at the Greenview Manor nursing home. But he didn’t just visit.

He actively participated in her care. Whatever task needed to be done, even the difficult parts of her care, Puck did without complaint, and in that way helped his mother live her final years with dignity. And through it all, Puck never judged those of us who didn’t even go and visit nearly as often as we should have. He knew what he had to do. He also understood that not everybody could do what he did.

Another thing I admired about Puck was his unapologetic love for his hometown of Wakefield. In an era of increasing transience, this is hard for many to comprehend. It’s no longer fashionable to live your entire life in one community and to be fiercely loyal to your hometown. With his smarts and his innate people skills, I’m convinced that Puck could have been a success at anything, anywhere. But he stayed in Wakefield, not because he was afraid of the unknown, but because he loved his town and its people and he made a choice to stay.

In the late Fifties and early Sixties, Puck served on the town’s Recreation Commission, where he could have an impact on one of his biggest loves—local sports. I’m convinced that, if he had wanted to, Puck could have gone on in local politics and, based on his enormous popularity, could have been elected easily to any office.

But I suspect that for a straight-shooter like Puck, back-room deals and compromising one’s principles to achieve political goals held very little appeal. Puck never coveted power or wealth, and because of that he probably influenced more people than most politicians and businessmen.

Puck was a member of the Greatest Generation. Like many veterans of World War II, Puck never liked to talk about his war experiences. He enlisted in the Navy right out of high school in 1942. He was a Hospital Corpsman attached to the 1st Marine Division in the Pacific.

I have it on very good authority that Puck was an authentic war hero, rescuing many wounded Marines from the battlefield under heavy enemy fire. He received commendations for “Bravery Under Fire.” But Puck didn’t need to talk about it afterwards. He knew what he did. And the boys whose lives he saved knew what he did. That was all that mattered to Puck.

Even though he seldom talked about those deeds, Puck was proud to have served his country. I remember that often, in the middle of a conversation about something else entirely, Puck would interject, “Remember—I’m a veteran.” He said it so often that the expression became a kind of running joke that Puck enjoyed as much as the rest of us. Puck would never brag, but by his repetition of that light-hearted comment, he let you know how proud he was of his service to his country.

Puck was a walking encyclopedia of Wakefield sports, to say nothing of his knowledge of sports in general, from schoolboy to professional. In high school, Puck played football alongside Jim Landrigan, the legendary All-Scholastic tackle for whom Landrigan Field is named. Puck was on the field with two of the greatest running backs in Wakefield High School history, Larry Bartnick and Paul Lazzaro. But where Puck really excelled was on the basketball court. Puck was the scrappy sparkplug that drove those early Forties Warrior hoop teams.

It didn’t stop after Puck graduated from WHS in 1942. From the 1940s through the 1990s, if there was a bigger booster, fan and devoted follower of Wakefield schoolboy sports than Puck, I’d like to know who that person was.

To say that Puck was a regular presence at Wakefield sporting events, especially football games, would be an understatement of epic proportions. Whether he was taking tickets at the gate for Saturday afternoon games at Walton Field in the Fifties and Sixties, or later holding court at his post at the northeast corner of the end zone at Landrigan Field, Puck was there.

Former WHS students stopped by to renew friendships, talk sports and have a laugh with Puck. Puck never had the title “coach” in front of his name. But with his encyclopedic knowledge of sports, for more than half a century Puck had the ear of coaches and players alike.

For all of those reasons, in my humble opinion, it would be a great posthumous honor if Puck were to be one day enshrined in the Wakefield athletic Hall of Fame. Perhaps today’s school officials never knew Puck, but for parts of six decades, every athlete, every coach, every teacher and every student who went through Wakefield High School knew Puck and respected what he knew and what he did behind the scenes for Wakefield sports and for Wakefield kids.

There is much more that could be said. My cousin Jack said some of it in Puck’s eulogy. Puck’s friend Larry O’Brien said some of it in his terrific tribute in the Item last Tuesday, November 22. I’ll close by saying that if I can be half the man that Puck was, my life will be a success.

I am proud to say that Joseph “Puck” Sardella was my uncle.

[This column originally appeared in the Wakefield Daily Item.]

Advertisements


5 Responses to “MY UNCLE, PUCK SARDELLA”

  1. 1 A guy from Wakefield

    Puck was a great guy.. I skipped school twice, once in Jr high, 8th, and once in high school, 9th , Puck got me both times so I gave up skipping.

  2. 2 Barbara (Moore) Williams

    My husband Charlie and myself enjoyed reading your wonderful tribute to your uncle and reminisced about Puck with such fond memories.Charlie played football and was well aware of the support Puck gave to all. I can remember Puck always being in some corridor with the big broom in hand,a big smile on his face and always a perfect gentleman to all the girls. We were only kids at the time(class of ’62) but he was on the top list of favorites. I’m sure the stories are endless,and what a great person to have
    known. He even signed my yearbook! Treasure your memories,you’re a lucky person.

  3. 3 NancyHennessey Pollard

    Dear All, I finally got around to reading this article about PUCK and wanted to briefly comment. I have memories of him everywhere in that highschool especially in the cafeteria with the barrels and the broom. He was always a quiet and gentle person who was always there wirh a smile. Just his presence and body language made us respect him amd acknowledge him. He is simply part of the wonderful memoeies of WHS ! Weren’t we a lucky bunch of kids! Nancy Hennessey Pollard

  4. 4 Stephanie Ellis

    I came across this blog while researching old Wakefield nursing homes for a school report (I’m a nursing student, after all these years). What a delightful surprise to see this article about “Puck” Sardella. I only went to Wakefield High School for one year before my parents shuttled me off to the infamous House on the Hill, Nazareth Academy. I was a rebel, and thought I knew all the ways out of that old Atwell building, invisible to all. Puck would always find us, downstairs in the library where my girlfriends and I would hide, or at the train station, just before boarding for Boston. He really saved us from ourselves, in retrospect. We thought so highly of him, and he conveyed such honest concern and caring for us, that all we could do was march back to school. Years later, I would talk about Puck to my daughter, a WHS student who liked to skip class, and lament that there was no one else like Puck Sardella to follow the kids around. I remember him fondly.

  5. 5 rick robbins

    I GRADUATED FROM WAKEFIELD HIGH, CLASS OF ’69..PUCK WAS “THE MAN”.. I OFTEN HAD DETENTION AND PUCK ALLOWED ME TO DO THE TIME WITH HIM…SOMETIMES HE WOULD GIVE ME DOUBLE AND TRIPLE TIME OFF TO HELP US OUT…THERE ARE FEW PEOPLE IN LIFE THAT MAKE A LASTING IMPRESSION AND HELP TO MOLD YOU AS A HUMAN BEING..AND PUCK WAS ONE OF THOSE FEW..I CAN HONESTLY SAY THAT I LOVED THAT MAN AND TRULY RESPECT HIM MORE NOW THAN EVER BEFORE..

    RICK ROBBINS


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: