After 48 years in the classroom and on the sports fields, VUES teacher to retire

VERGENNES — In his soon-to-end 48 years at Vergennes Union Elementary School, mostly spent teaching 5th- and 6th-grade social studies, Joe Samaritoni has enjoyed plenty of what he calls “aha moments,” coached and refereed countless youth soccer and basketball games, and resisted the advice of many to join the ranks of administrators.
Even though elementary school was never his intended landing place as an education major at Ohio State University, once he settled into a VUES classroom Samaritoni said he never wanted to leave, at least not until it came time to retire this spring.
In an interview last week in his home room, Samaritoni, who will soon turn 70, rattled off a list of several former colleagues who went onto administrative careers and suggested he do the same.
“There were a number of times in discussions it came up, the pros and cons, and they were all satisfied. And I said how much contact do you get with the kids? How many aha moments do you get to see? And they had to admit not too many,” Samaritoni said. “I get to see one once a week, at least. I’ll stay where I am.”
But after nearly five decades of teaching, all at VUES, and almost as many years coaching and refereeing, Samaritoni said it is time to take off the VUES and referee lanyards and give his legs a break.
“Forty-eight years is a long time, and arthritis is catching up with me,” Samaritoni said, adding there are other family health issues that ideally he would like to be able to spend more time helping to address. “The family needs me right now.”
He jokes that maybe he can make a career switch.
“I now predict the weather with my arthritis,” said Samaritoni. “My feet and ankles, all those years of running up and down soccer fields and basketball courts have gotten to them.”
Both Samaritoni and wife, Alice, grew up in Sandusky in northern Ohio, attended and graduated Ohio State, and majored in education.
Samaritoni said teaching was his first career choice.
“Maybe you can blame it on the nuns I had in elementary school,” he said. “I had that idea early, I know that.”
But he flirted with another path before focusing on a content area to advance his education career.
“I loved history, but I was originally a pre-pharmacy major. Then I ran into organic chemistry, and I said, ‘Ooh, do I really love this that much?’” Samaritoni said. “I decided I loved history more.”
He and Alice decided they wanted to teach in Alaska, but twice one of them, but not the other, was offered a job there. In the meantime, after graduation, a friend and his fiancé were going to interviews in Burlington and asked Joe and Alice to tag along. They interviewed in Burlington, Middlebury and Vergennes, and got a double hit in the Vergennes area.
“Bob Twiss and Dave Potter were the superintendent and assistant. And my interview had been at the high school. But Bob Twiss called me and said right now I need a teacher at the 5th- and 6th-grade level doing social studies if you’re interested. And I know I must have hesitated, (and he said), ‘And we have a job for your wife also,’” Samaritoni recalled. “(I thought) ‘Oh, OK, well then, maybe we can start there since it didn’t look like Alaska was going to work.”
Alice started work at Addison Central School teaching math and science, and Samaritoni began at VUES. Another Alaska offer came, this time just for Alice, and they declined.
“And in the third year, my first son was born. And I said, I guess we won’t be moving to Alaska,” Samaritoni said.
Alice left ACS then, but came back after a leave of absence to teach music for two-and-a-half years, splitting time between VUES and Ferrisburgh Central School. When the second of their seven children arrived, she retired from teaching, Samaritoni said.
With Alaska off the table, the next choice Samaritoni faced was between VUES and Vergennes Union High School. But he had discovered he preferred the younger pupils.
“Artemis Ward was the chair then of the social studies department at the high school. Three years in a row he was asking me to come over,” Samaritoni said. “I said I’ll come if you need me, but I like what I’m doing.”
When Dave Potter took over as superintendent he told Samaritoni he preferred him to stay at VUES to offer gender balance in the teaching staff, particularly social studies. Samaritoni was happy to oblige, in part because by then he had also co-founded the VUES intramural basketball and soccer programs.
He also appreciated the eagerness of 5th- and 6th-graders to learn.
“Their brains are like sponges. They want to learn everything,” Samaritoni said.
After his children concluded their middle school careers he switched to more officiating and less coaching to allow him to watch his children play while he officiated.
A former lacrosse and football athlete back in Ohio, Samaritoni refereed Vergennes-area city youth soccer and basketball games for maybe eight years before he became certified, then 25 years of middle school, JV and summer-league soccer. He also worked many elementary and middle school basketball games, and for a while became a regular on the spring AAU basketball circuit, often working with Middlebury’s William Harris.
At one New York state tournament the two ended up refereeing a 17-and-under game in which the son of legendary University of Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma played — and Auriemma coached the team.
“He looked at me, and I looked at Bill, and we looked at Geno,” Samaritoni said. “He had one question during the game, and I answered his question. And he went right to his team and changed things. And after the game he gave a thumbs up and said, ‘Great game.’”
In the classroom Samaritoni remembers fondly a team-teaching initiative in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He admits he was skeptical at first about an approach that included meetings with VUHS middle-school teachers, an incorporation of reading into all classes, and a coordinated approach for grades 5 through 8.
But he was happy to be proven wrong, and Samaritoni said he, Kitty Muzzy and Sue Doolan enjoyed working closely together.
“Those 10, 11 years, that was my Camelot. We formed a team called Team Eureka. We just meshed. We each had to take in reading. None of us had taught reading full-time, so we each took a reading class,” he said. “It was just one of those lucky things. All the gears fit. We felt like there wasn’t anything we couldn’t do. We really enjoyed it.”
Now Samaritoni is looking forward to visits from his children and grandchildren this summer, taking care of his Vergennes home and gardens, and golfing and reading.
“The house we own is a 150-year-old house. There’s always something, even though we’ve rebuilt almost every inch of it. Especially some of the stuff I did when I was very young needs to be redone,” he said. “My wife and I both garden. She grows the flowers, the pretty stuff. If I can’t eat it, I don’t grow it, so I’m out there with the veggies.”
He’s not worried about filling up his free hours.
“There will be plenty of books to read, which I haven’t had time to do. One of my sons bought me the Major League Baseball channel this year, so I’m watching all the Cleveland games I can’t normally watch. Another son bought me a membership at Basin Harbor this summer, so I’ve got to get out and play golf,” Samaritoni said.
“I’ve talked to other retirees, and they tell me the first eight, 10 months is great, take a vacation, but then you’ll be looking for something to do, so we’ll see. But if I’ve really got to have something to do I think my list will take me more than eight or 10 months.”

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