by Cindi Giovo
A retired Central Square fourth-grade school teacher has quietly left this life as quietly as he entered his 32 years in the teaching field.
Joseph Francis Sereno was born in Oswego, on May 13, 1932 to his Italian immigrant parents, James and Nancy Porcari Sereno. He was the youngest of nine children and attended St Joseph’s Catholic Church. Leading the strong Italian family were his four brothers: Nicholas Porcari, Jasper, Matthew and Michael, then came his sisters: Connie, Virginia and Helen and another brother, James who was born two years before Joe.
The family ran Sereno’s Restaurant and Bar in Oswego. It was here he learned at an early age to work as a team, saw the importance of having strong integrity, believed in exceptional morals, developed a sense of humor and learned how to play cards which was his family’s favorite pastime.
At the restaurant, his mother cooked the meals for many years but in 1949 she died, so the family closed the restaurant leaving the bar opened under his father’s careful management until he died in 1965. At that time, his brother, Mike ran the business until the mid-1980s when he made the difficult decision to sell it.
His five brothers: Nicholas, Jasper, Matthew, Michael, and James predeceased him. His three sisters married and Connie Salisbury lives in Minetto, while Virginia Wahrendorf and Helen Babcock both live in Oswego. Each and every sibling attended and graduated from the Oswego School District.
Even though Joe was the youngest in his family and started school at the tender age of four; he found education to be important and in 1949 graduated from Oswego High School. It was then that he attended Niagara University for two years majoring in elementary education.
Like all of his other friends, he joined the Army in 1952, served as a staff sergeant and was stationed in Alaska before it ever was a state.
As love would have it, and a week before leaving for duty, on bended knee he proposed to his high school sweetheart Eleanor DiMiero presenting her with a diamond ring. Upon returning from the Army, they married on July 14, 1956 in St John’s Catholic Church in Oswego with a reception at the former D. A. Lodge.
They had two daughters, Judith (her father always called her Jude) born May 1957 and Mary Elizabeth (affectionately known as Beth) who was born May 1959.
Sereno finished his elementary education degree at the State University at Oswego in 1958. To help pay for his tuition, Sereno worked for the Oswego County Highway Department and mowed the sides of the country roads during the summers.
He knew all the small towns such as Arthur, Texas, New Haven, Mexico and Vermillion. It was he who was on a tractor carefully cutting and trimming the grass in all those corners of the county.
After graduating from Oswego State and not totally ready to teach, he decided to sell insurance from 1958-1961 in the Metropolitan office in Oswego meeting while greeting clients and friends with his friendly humor.
However, in the summer of 1961, Sereno was interviewed and started teaching at what was then Central Square Elementary School; the two-story brick and mortar building surrounded by trees, with a circle driveway that would lead up to two other schools in the Central Square Central School District.
Sereno was assigned to the school with Kurt Hamf as his first principal. This elementary school was unique because it could be found on the same campus as PV Moore High School and what was then, Millard Hawk Middle School. Sereno enjoyed teaching fourth grade as well as fifth grade with a few years of a combination class for fourth and fifth. To him, the students were at the age where they could be independent, have positive character traits and would be a joy to have around.
Sereno was a teacher well-known for his silvery white hair, the twinkle in his eyes, friendly smile, robust laugh that encompassed his daily jokes and a gentle spirit. He gladly offered a hand to his fellow colleagues as he knew the curricular areas inside and out.
For 32 years he drove from his residence in Oswego, with other faculty members such as Bob Rossiter, and Maryann Van Buren or Dean Geowey. For his last 20 years or so, he rode with his sidekick, Peter Sherman, who started in the late 1960s teaching fifth and later sixth grade.
They had many amusing episodes while driving the long stretch of road on county Route 4 going into Central Square; like the times the geese on county Route 4 would wait for them daily, greeting them by the road, flapping their wings with feathers flying and squawking as if to say hello to the dedicated teachers that were driving by.
Another incident was when it was quite blustery out and they decided to follow the taillights of a car in front of them. They came to an abrupt stop when they realized both cars drove into a field, caused by the blinding snow.
His younger colleagues remembered when he would tell them of the time in the late 1960s when a heavy snowstorm hit the Central New York area on a Friday. The winds blew in the storm and it intensified by late afternoon just before bus dismissal. To make matters worse, the NYS Police closed Route 81 due to poor visibility.
Parents were driving snowmobiles and tractors to Central Square Elementary School to pick their children up as the buses couldn’t get through. The students who were still stranded at school were becoming scared as it was getting late and they were hungry. Not knowing how long the storm was going to last, the teachers opened up the kitchen and cooked hot dogs, beans and served peaches so the students would have something to eat. They arranged to open the gym for the students to play in. Realizing it might be an overnighter, they also pulled out the gym mats from storage just in case.
A television was brought into one of the classrooms and the students watched the nightly humorous program about a maid called, Hazel. Hours went by before the last of the students were finally safely taken home; then the teachers were able to venture home as well…that being around 10:30 in the evening.
Sereno taught summer school in the late 1960s and early 1970s. On Fridays, he would take the students on field trips to the airport, a pet cemetery, museums and other local spots of interest.
His younger daughter, Beth followed her father’s footsteps as she graduated from Oswego High School and attended State University of Oswego. In 1981 she became a teacher in the Oswego City School District. She married Billy Schickling, a native of Mexico, in July 1988.
When Sereno decided to retire in 1993, his first grandchild, Joey Schickling (affectionately named after his grandfather) was born April 23, 1993 and Sereno jumped into grandparenthood as easily as he did teaching. In 1997, he became a proud grandpa again, this time to his precious adopted granddaughter from Russia by the name of Mariel; born Jan. 5, 1997.
His family was complete when his daughter, Jude married James Zak of Buffalo in July 2003.
He was a communicant of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Oswego where many family events were celebrated such as weddings and the baptisms of Sereno’s two grandchildren Joey and Mariel Schickling.
Sereno was a life member of the Oswego Elk’s Lodge and the American Legion Post 268.
Sadness hit his family in 2009, as the horrific disease of cancer suddenly struck his daughter, Jude and after a brief four weeks, it took her life at the young age of 52.
Time marched on. Joe and his lovely wife Eleanor enjoyed retirement by traveling, attending club and church events, playing cards and spending time with the grandchildren (who affectionately called him Bubba).
In November 2010, he discovered he had developed large kidney stones which were blocking his kidneys. Without any pain, but through periodic examination he seemed to be controlling the problem.
Not feeling well in January 2011, he was admitted to Upstate Medical University and on the evening of Thursday, Jan. 13, Sereno passed away from infections complicated from the kidney stones and pneumonia.
When former students, who are now adults, heard about his passing it can be safely said that Joseph F. Sereno left a legacy in the field of education. His former student, Sheri Hansen warmly made this comment, “Mr. Sereno’s relaxed style and friendly manner allowed everyone to feel comfortable.
His classroom setting encouraged us to work to our ability and feel confident about learning.” Another former fourth-grade student, Joe House had this to say, “Mr. Sereno was the best teacher I ever had. What I remember most was his great sense of humor. He really cared about us and made school a nice place to be.”
Retired Central Square colleague, Linda Budjac, who worked with Sereno for 28 years was truly saddened by the loss when she reminisced,
“It’s quite a loss. Joe was one of those favorite teachers that former students would come back to visit. He was down to earth with a great sense of humor, respectful and dignified. He had perfect timing as he was able to diffuse a tense moment with laughter.”
Over his many years of teaching, Sereno was a teacher who touched the lives of young students and his fellow colleagues.
As strongly as he felt about children’s education, health and safety; it is not a surprise that Sereno’s family requested contributions be made in his memory to St Jude Children’s Hospital 262 Danny Thomas Place; Memphis, TN 38105.