Last week in Las Vegas, longtime Somers Track Coach and Phys Ed Teacher Charles Gilberti lost a extended fight with cancer and died at the age of 67. At the Lovell Street Bar and Grill, several Somers alumni and a former colleague came out on Saturday night to pay respects in a manner befitting a Somers fixture that few ever addressed as Charles or Mr. Gilberti.
"Mo, what's up," were words that couldn't help but emerge from the hearts and minds of Somers students upon meeting up in the hallway, according to Roy Arnesen, who coached track with Gilberti
More typically, "Chuck" precipitated any conversation with the very approachable gym teacher. "It made him more accessible and put him closer in the light of a friend rather than an authority figure," said Suzy Moravick, who organized the small informal gathering.
At the same time, Gilberti was no push over and maintained a distance appropriate to being a responsible member of the faculty. "You definitely knew where the line was, said 1982 graduate Sue Westmark-Sanchez.
Former baseball coach and math teacher, Joe Rinaldi simply chalked the easy interaction up to Gilberti's natural feel for the job he loved. "It takes a certain personality to relate so well to kids and Chuck had that," he said.
But the genesis of the salutation was merely incidental. "He was only three years older than the seniors when he began teaching in 1966 so it evolved very naturally," said Rinaldi.
As for any questions administration may have raised over 35 years, Rinaldi referred it back to Chuck simply being Chuck. "He had a personality in which he didn't care what other people thought," said the Mahopac resident.
That may have played a role in putting the bigger picture above the everyday infractions all young people succumb to on their way to adulthood. Never being judgmental, said Westmark-Sanchez, "He was someone that always had your best interest at heart even when you were screwing up."
Of course, he also showed that by not adhering to the constraints of the job description and the hands on the clock. Kimberly Pittelli Shaw remembered all the time he sacrificed in taking students on weekly ski trips for one but it was more than that. "He actually took time out of his life to give advice that could change your life," said the 1982 graduate.
On the athletic end, Rinaldi speculated on what he thinks Gilberti would be most proud of in terms of the coaching legacy left behind. "He'd be thrilled that the Somers Track Invitational, which he began in 1977, is still going on," said Rinaldi.
His worth and legacy, though, certainly extended beyond putting an annual meet down on paper and getting it up and running. With a magnetic personality, said Coach Arnesen, "he knew when to push kids, when to hug them and was great with both the boys and girls."
But Moravick, who graduated in 1981, did make a distinction on a bias based on gender. "I think because he had two daughters, he took a more fatherly approach with the girls," she remembered fondly.
Still, boy or girl, runner or wrestler, Chuck could always be found out of bounds or on the sidelines. "If you were a Somers athlete you were one of Chuck's guys," said Arnesen.
The same was true of the non athlete who knew Chuck only as the gym teacher, according to Westmark's recollection. In turn, she gave voice to the words this "jokester" would likely utter - even as it stands in stark contrast to the mournful tone such an untimely end should warrant. "If he was here he would probably say, 'I wanted to kick all your butts at some time back then but I wouldn't trade it for anything,'" she concluded.