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NK-Arnold educator won respect for how he handled the job

| Monday, Sept. 16, 2013, 12:27 a.m.

When Richard “Dick” Romito ruled the halls of Valley High School in New Kensington, it was as a principal and an educator, not a dictator.

The result was that students liked him but even more importantly, they respected him, according to two people who taught under Mr. Romito in the New Kensington-Arnold School District.

“Even when he came down on them and disciplined the kids, it was always ‘This is business, it isn't personal,' ” said Beverly Meyer of New Kensington, who taught in the district for 35 years.

Larry Rowe of Arnold, who also taught in the district for 35 years, said he considered Mr. Romito to be “pleasant, cheerful, helpful and easy to work with.”

“If you needed something and went to him, he would try to work it out,” Rowe said, adding that students respected him because of all those characteristics.

Many students and teachers who knew Mr. Romito during those years will now mourn him. He died in his sleep on Friday in his New Kensington home. He was 82.

Mr. Romito graduated in 1953 from St. Vincent College near Latrobe and then got a master's degree from the University of Pittsburgh. He spent the first years of his career teaching in the Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional school districts. In 1957, the Arnold native came back home to teach social studies at what was then Arnold Junior High School, where he coached football and basketball.

He never left. Mr. Romito retired from the district in 1990. Many of his 33 years there were spent as a principal or assistant principal, including 12 years as principal at Valley. His son, Rick, of Ashburn, Va., who teaches algebra and geometry at a public high school, believes his father was the longest-serving principal at Valley.

“He was so involved with this community,” his son said. “He was born here, lived here and died here. He would not leave this community. He loved it.”

Rick Romito, who graduated from Valley, said his father was the same in school as he was at home.

“He never lost his temper,” he said. “He was a very controlled guy. He was strict, but he would try to win kids over with philosophy, try to talk to them and reason with them. He affected so many lives.”

Rick Romito said he heard from a former student on Facebook who told him about the time he got into trouble and was given the choice of serving detention or getting a swat on the backside with a paddle, a routine punishment in those times. The student chose the swat and, before his father delivered the punishment, the student said Mr. Romito told him, “I'm very disappointed in you,” which hurt worse than the swat.

“I felt bad because I didn't want to disappoint Mr. Romito,” the student said.

His father's best friend since first grade, Joe Nee of New Kensington, said honesty was Dick Romito's outstanding quality.

“He was honest and he always did the right things,” Nee said. “He was the principal at Valley, and he handled a lot of things the right way. You could always count on him to handle things the right way.”

Rowe said when he started teaching in the district, from which he also graduated, in 1967 he was one of the first male African-American teachers. He said it was something he was very self-conscious of considering that particular time in American history. He said he used to go into Mr. Romito's office a lot and talk, primarily about being a good teacher.

“He was the kind of guy who would encourage you. He would say ‘Larry, it's going to be all right,' ” Rowe said. “He was a mentor.”

That included labor disputes, as Meyer, a former president of the district's teachers union, recalled when the teachers went on strike in the early 1980s.

“That never came into play personally,” she said. “He and I could disagree on things, and then it was over. When we were on strike, he was sorry that we were on strike, but he never held that against anybody.”

She said Mr. Romito was a “typical educator,” someone who loved children and promoted new educational ideas in the district.

“He was so dedicated to teaching,” Meyer said. “He tried to see the good in everybody. What a wonderful man he was.”

Then he added, “Gee, what a guy.”

Mr. Romito's son agrees.

“He was a wonderful father,” Rick Romito said. “He was the best man at my wedding — that's how much I thought of him.”

Romito said when his brother David developed a rare form of cancer, his father, who never missed a day of work, took his accumulated sick time and spent an entire year living with his brother while his case was studied by the National Cancer Institute. David Romito died in 1991.

Rick Romito said he came home to see his father once a month and, along with his own son, Peter, 15, would talk to him every night before they went to bed. The topic was usually sports, which his father loved, especially the Pittsburgh teams.

He believes his father tried to make Peter understand that his death was approaching in his own way.

“He used to tell his grandson, ‘Pete, I'm climbing the ladder, I'm getting up there,' ” Rick Romito said. “I guess he made it to the top.”

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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