By Bruce Amaro
---- — Every community remembers its best — its heroes, founding fathers, mayors, police and fire personnel.
This spring, Haverhill plans to memorialize someone who had a more modest public profile, but still impacted many lives — a beloved public school teacher.
The School Department will attach a plaque to Tilton School to commemorate the late Joanne Bevilacqua and her family’s contribution to the education of Haverhill’s children.
To recognize the life-long effort and dedication that Bevilacqua brought to her job as an elementary school teacher, Superintendent James Scully recently asked the School Committee to rename the new Teacher Collaboration Center at Tilton as “The Bevilacqua Family Teacher Collaboration Center.’’
“The Bevilacquas have remained steadfast in their support of a public school education, namely a Tilton School education,” Scully said in a Feb. 12 letter to the committee.
When she attended schools as a student in Haverhill, Bevilacqua knew exactly what she wanted to do later in life — become a teacher. She made it her life’s work until she died at age 48 in October 2008. At that time, she was working as an elementary school teacher at Tilton.
In her professional life, Bevilacqua could not wait for the first day of school each year. A Haverhill native who was raised in the city, she was educated at the Tilton.
“She had one goal in life, to be a teacher,’’ said her brother, School Committee member Joseph Bevilacqua. “That’s all she wanted to do.
“My sister couldn’t wait for the summer vacation to end, so she could get back to her job teaching,” he said.
Joanne Bevilacqua taught kindergarten and early elementary grades in the Haverhill system for 26 years. She was teaching first grade at Tilton at the time of her death. Students remember her for her kindnesses, gifts she gave them during the holidays, maybe a pair of gloves when the weather turned cold, her brother said. Many of them attended the calling hours after her death.
“She, my mother and other sister went shopping Saturdays, and Joanne would bring home something for a student who she knew need a jacket, a hat, gloves during the winter,” her brother said.
Bevilacqua said his mother brought 40 boxes of supplies to the School Department after his sister died. When his mother cleaned out her late daughter’s belongings, she discovered school supplies that Joanne had accumulated to use in her classrooms, Bevilacqua said. The family decided those items should be given to the School Department.
Joanne Bevilacqua graduated from Haverhill High School in 1978. She did not go far from home, attending Merrimack College and gaining two bachelor’s degrees, one in education and the other in psychology. Later, she earned a master’s degree in early childhood education from Fitchburg State College.
She started working in Haverhill schools after graduating from Merrimack College, her brother said.
Bevilacqua loved animals and adopted many. She had a dog and cat when she died. A caring woman who seemed to know that a little kindness went a long way, her memory and name will become part of the school she attended and where she taught.
Scully said he does not yet know what the plaque will say or when the city will hang it on the school, because the plan has come together only recently.
“We’re doing it at no one person’s request,” Scully said. “So many of the faculty at the schools Joanne taught in asked about doing something in her memory and, as the Tilton was her school, her family’s school, this seemed the appropriate thing to do.’’