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Elio Zappulla

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Elio Zappulla, a long-time Stony Brook resident and dedicated educator, passed away peacefully on Nov. 5, 2021, at the age of 88, due to complications from thymoma.

Elio Zappulla

In 1933, Elio was born in Brooklyn to parents of Italian descent: Giuseppe Zappulla, a radio broadcaster and published poet — originally a stonemason in Sicily — and Rita Fera, a clerk, amateur pianist and swimmer. Upon graduating from Brooklyn’s Midwood High School in 1950, Elio went on to Brooklyn College, where he studied languages and developed his love for teaching. Elio proceeded to teach in Brooklyn by day while pursuing a doctorate in French Literature at Columbia University by night.

Though New York City remained in his heart, Elio relocated to the Three Village area in the 1960s to raise his family. Over the ensuing 60-year period, he encouraged and educated thousands of students at both the primary- and secondary-school levels across Suffolk County. Connecting with young people through his characteristic humor, respect and curiosity, Elio sought to draw the uninterested to the joys of learning, and to challenge his students to lofty goals.

Elio’s love of history, the arts and culture was evident whether working as a foreign-language teacher in the Three Village school district, a teacher/administrator in Huntington or a professor at Dowling College. Outside the classroom, Professor Zappulla acted in, directed and later wrote reviews for local theater productions. Additionally, his polyglot status and voracious appetite for reading made Elio a daily regular at Setauket’s Emma S. Clark Memorial Library, among other bibliophile haunts.

Like his father Giuseppe, Elio was a poet. His magnum opus was a verse translation of Dante’s “Inferno” in 1998. This acclaimed rendition, published by Random House, maintained in English the same rhythmic meter as the original ancient Italian work. Elio worked on this translation as a passion project while teaching full time at Dowling.

Having grown up in racially and culturally diverse parts of Brooklyn, Elio henceforth devoted himself to issues of human justice and equity in American society. He contributed dozens of cogent opinion pieces — infused with his signature wit — to local papers over the years, including Times Beacon Record Newspapers, typically focused on politics and the plight of minorities in America. He aimed to inspire others to also boldly speak up for righteous causes with his actions and teaching.

Elio is survived by Lynette Zappulla, his beloved wife of 53 years, and their two children David Zappulla, of Coopersburg, Pennsylvania, and Eve Anderson, of Los Angeles; and his four young grandchildren. Elio’s first son, Robert Zappulla, lives in Rancho Cucamonga, California, and his elder daughter, Laura Zappulla, predeceased him in 2010.

A private memorial service, due to COVID-19, was held for Elio at Setauket Presbyterian Church on Dec. 22. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the American Civil Liberties Union and/or the church.