Hackensack has had leaders throughout its history that have motivated people to succeed… the first being Nelson Haas.  According to the newspaper accounts of students who were influenced by him, such as H.Kent Hewitt, who studied under Nelson Haas to pass the entrance exam to the Naval academy in 1903, says that it was the hardest he had ever studied over a four-day period in his life.

Click here to view account from book on H. Kent Hewitt.  

The newspaper accounts after Nelson Haas’s passing, give an account of a man who was not afraid to physically confront a student not because he was a tyrant, but because he so cared that the student would stay on task which the students respected. The Evening Record, January 6, 1906, “A Tribute to Nelson Haas”, article after his passing mentions “A man of Commanding Presence” and “an unusual type of vigorous manhood.” The article then states “Scores of men and women recall how the principal of thirty years ago ‘yanked them from time to time’, when they imagined themselves bigger than the man at the desk.”  The article concludes, “Primarily the now dead professor Haas must be credited with the attainment of so splendid result. His personality and force of character impressed themselves upon the intelligent and progressive men to whom the voters entrusted the management of the free public schools of the town.” It is a fine line of abuse of power and caring.  Those leaders who find it are special and highly respected.  Nelson Haas was highly respected by the whole Hackensack Community and students alike. 

Another man who had such a presence was Carl Padovano.  Carl Padovano, had fought on the island of Iwo Jima during World War II and his experience lead him to save, in a chest in his basement, along with other items of his service, the “Quest Sermon” by the Jewish Chaplain, Roland B. Gittleson of the fifth Marine Division, when dedicating the cemetery on Iwo Jima.  The words in that sermon have special meaning when understood through the light of Carl Padovano’s experience during the historic events he took part in during that time in history. Men only save items of deep importance when it comes to such experiences. Carl Padovano lived these words to the fullest of his abilities to all who knew him. He wanted his life to make an impact on those he taught and coached, so the sacrifice of those men he fought beside and died on Iwo Jima would not be forgotten.  I think it is important to read what he had saved to understand what he was committed to.

Quest Sermon
An excerpt from a sermon delivered by Roland B. Gittleson, the Jewish chaplain of the 5 th Marine Division, when he dedicated a cemetery on the bloody, windswept island of Iwo Jima.
Somewhere in this plot of ground, there may lie a man who could have discovered a cure for cancer. Under one of these Christian crosses, or beneath a Jewish Star of David, there may rest now a man who was destined to be a great prophet. Now they lie here silently in this sacred soil, and we gather to consecrate this earth in their memory
Here lie officers and men, black and white, rich and poorHere are Protestants, Catholics and Jews. Here no man prefers another because of his faith, or despises him because of his color. Here there are no quotas of how many from each group are admitted or allowed. Theirs is the highest and purest form of democracy.
Any man among us, the living, wholifts his hand in hate against a brother, or thinks himself superior to those who happen to be in minority, makes of this ceremony and of the bloody sacrifice it commemorates, an empty, hollow mockery.
Carl Padovano wrote this at bottom:
30,000 dead and wounded 2/19/45 ...3/21/45....................................................................21
Carl Padovano, like Nelson Haas, had found that balance with students to not let them go astray, if they could be reached for their own good.  He was a man of few words and hard to get close to for many, but athletes who played for him and the many students and staff who knew him, loved him.  In the early 1950’s the students walked out of class because there was fear he was leaving because of a coaching contract dispute.  As Nelson Haas at the turn of the Century did, Carl Padovano would also physically confront you if needed, as he did my brother who never breached his trust again.  My brother graduated college and has become very successful.  Carl Padovano and his wife Kay would also extend their home to students at times who needed a place to stay, who may be having problems at home, or needed someone to talk to, or just a friendly meal.

I had never known Carl Padovano’s influence on Joe DeFalco till later on in life when I was out of school and went to a dinner honoring Joe DeFalco, in the mid 1990’s after Carl Padovano had passed away.  Joe said that Carl Padovano was the man that had the greatest influence on him in the field of education and mentoring.  Joe, like Nelson Haas and Carl Padovano before, had the leadership quality of a physical presence along with a spirit of true understanding and caring.  Were any of these men perfect? No, but they simply cared about the students first and all else was background noise.  None of them would abuse the physical aspect of their position, but their presence left no one wondering who was in charge.  Understanding this balance is rare and I believe a gift that few possess.  These men would never harm or abuse anyone they stood up to and confronted what was wrong, and they all would be the first to defend anyone against a bully, nothing would upset Joe DeFalco more than a bully. 
When I first met Joe Defalco in 1969, he was a Biology teacher at Hackensack High School and an Assistant Football Coach and Head Wrestling Coach.  Myself and many others who had wrestled or played football for Joe DeFalco when he was coach have personal stories that could fill a library of how he motivated us and influenced our lives.           

Around 1990, I went to visit Joe DeFalco. I had seen him at Thanksgiving Day games or other events over the years, but for seventeen years since 1973 when I graduated, I had not sat down and talked to him.  I went to Hackensack High School, where he was principal at the time and we started to reminisce about when I had wrestled for him, when he was coach.  I started telling him about my family when through his door which has an opaque glass, hard to see anything out of it, Joe all of a sudden interrupted me and said, “Wait a minute Bob, stay here”.  I had no idea what the problem was as he rushed to the door, which closed behind him, and he pinned this 300 pound young man up against the wall and started, not yelling, but sternly saying “Get to class, what are you doing in the Hallway I stepped up for you?”  The young man replied, “Yes sir, Mr. DeFalco, I will go to class”.  When Joe was done he came back into his office as the door closed behind him, huffing, red in the face, and I said with a smile “Joe what was that all about”. Joe with so much concern, care, and anger looked at me and said, “Bob I went to bat for that kid with his teacher this period a few days ago because he had cut class, and now he is in the hallway cutting again, not right!”  All I could think of was how Joe was taking that kid’s problems on his shoulder to get him to do the right thing just like he had done for us 17 years earlier, when we had a team meeting and he yelled at us because 5 kids on our All County wrestling team were failing gym because of attendance.  After he told me about why he had “talked” to the student, the phone rang and after he finished I said, “Joe I guess I will go you have a lot of other things to deal with rather than talk to me.”  He looked me straight in the eye and said “Stop! This stuff is nonsense and it never ends; I always have time for you guys.”  I stayed and we talked for another 15 minutes or so and I left.  As I was walking to my car, I thought I have not sat down and talked to him in 17 years and he still makes me feel like I am the most important person in the world, and that kid in the hallway feels the same way because all the other teachers have given up on him by now, but not Joe. 

You can read about how Joe DeFalco and I got the Wall Unit back up in Hackensack High School under the Veterans website heading "How it Began". Joe DeFalco passed away on May 10, 2005 on my 50th birthday and because of that it is a day I can never forget. We were in the process of getting the Wall Unit up at the high school and during that particular day I was working on framing a roof with a contractor in Rochelle Park.  The contractor’s father, Richard J. Schiemer, came by around lunch and mentioned he had heard Joe DeFalco had died.  I was so upset I told Rick Schiemer the contractor I was going home and he understood.  On the way home, I stopped at the Seven Eleven by the Esplanade in Hackensack on the boarder of Maywood and Hackensack to get something to drink.  While on line waiting to pay, I asked a police officer who was on line, and if he had heard that Joe DeFalco had died.  The police officer said he had heard Joe died earlier, and with that another young man on line turned to us and said, “Joe DeFalco the principal at Hackensack High School?”  The officer said “Yes”.  The young man dropped his head in sorrow, then lifted it and said to us, “He is the reason I got through high school; no teachers wanted me in the building; he made me get through high school. If it wasn't for him, I never would have graduated.”  I asked him what he is doing now and he replied, “I am an occupational therapist.” No easy task educationally for anyone especially someone who barely made it out of high school. As Nelson Haas had confronted students to achieve and set a standard of leadership at Hackensack High School, Joe Defalco learned directly from
Carl Padovano
not to give up on those students who have struggles, but care enough to confront them to do the right thing.  Joe’s favorite team was the Brooklyn Dodgers, so needless to say he was always pulling for the underdog. 

Written by:
Bob Meli
March 2, 2018