By Nancy Remkus
“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.”
– Brad Henry
There is no doubt about the value of good teachers in our lives and in the lives of our children. I imagine we can all look back and remember those teachers who changed our lives, who went above and beyond, who touched our hearts and helped guide us on our journey through life. I had the privilege of teaching at Sag Harbor Elementary School for over 30 years, and I am proud to say that I worked among the finest, most dedicated educators anywhere. We were, and many continue to be, part of a group of professionals who loved our jobs and were very grateful to be a part of the Sag Harbor School community.
Sag Harbor’s own, Deanna Lattanzio, was one of those dedicated teachers. Originally Deanna DeSanti, she was born and raised here in Sag Harbor when it was a bit unpolished and laced with the freedom and innocence of a small town America. Her grandparents all hailed from Italy and planted roots right here in Sag Harbor. Her father’s parents owned and operated a pool hall on Main Street, and her mother’s parents established and ran ‘Cove Side Dairy’ later known as the historic ‘Cilli’s Dairy Farm’ off of Glover Street. “My grandparents bought the farm on Glover Street in 1922 for $400. They had about 40 cows that they would milk by hand twice a day, and then deliver milk to people’s homes by horse and buggy. They also grew corn to feed the cows, and my aunt would go up to the top of the silo and jump up and down on the corn to make room for more corn. Some of the more clever cows would sneak out of the fence and could be found walking around the village. My grandmother used to gather all of the cows and bring them across the street to graze in the pasture. They also used that empty lot for the circus that visited in the summer. When I was in elementary school, the only field trip we took in all those years, was to our dairy farm. We brought cream back to the school and made butter. Not very exciting for me, since I was there every single day.”
Deanna remembers Sag Harbor as “the most wonderful place to grow up. You walked home from school for lunch. You rode your bike wherever you wanted to go. It was safe; you knew everyone. We would go to Sagg Main for the day, and we would be the only family there. Every September I would go to Ivan’s Shoe Store for a new pair of Keds.”
Deanna wasn’t always a teacher. First, she worked in Sag Harbor Industries, Bulova, and later she worked as a switchboard operator for the New York Telephone Company. The switchboard office was located on the porch of the York’s family home on the corner of Church and Union Streets in Sag Harbor. When a call came in, she would physically connect the wires so people would be able to speak with one another. “Sometimes it was quiet, but other times, such as when it would start to rain and everyone left the beach, the switchboard would light up like a Christmas tree.”
Deanna married the boy next door, Jim Lattanzio, or actually the paperboy from the next street over. She lived on Bayview Avenue — he lived on Glover Street. They had two lovely children, Jimmy and Elisa, and now she has four grandchildren who keep her busy and filled with love.
After that work experience, Deanna was encouraged by two of her Pierson High School Teachers, Helen Gregory and Helen Muller, to attend college to become a teacher. “That was the best advice ever,” exclaimed Deanna. She began her teaching career with a class filled with 33 first graders on split session in Sachem, Long Island and taught there for five years. She and her husband had settled in Bayport due to their jobs, but after Jim was offered a position in Montauk, they moved back to Sag Harbor. Deanna began substituting and filling in as a leave replacement in the Sag Harbor Elementary School in 1981, and in 1985 she was hired as a full-time teacher. “I can’t imagine a better place to teach. I loved going there every day. How lucky I was and how grateful.” Deanna has left many Sag Harbor Elementary students with wonderful memories from her days in the classroom, and she has inspired generations of children. She was one of those teachers who burned the midnight oil and stayed at her desk hours after school each day perfecting her craft. During her time at the elementary school, she was a vital part of all aspects of the school community.
As an elementary school teacher, Deanna understands the importance of the job. “No matter how much you have prepared, there is always more to do-new ideas, new ways to help kids learn, finding new things to teach. You are impacting kids’ lives. You not only teach the academics, you also teach empathy and caring throughout the year; you encourage kids to accept each other’s differences and hopefully inspire them to be the best they can be. Every year was different: new faces, new ways of learning. Teaching never gets old, and it’s never boring. It is always changing and always creative. I never looked at my watch and said, ‘when is it going to be three o’clock.’ There was always the feeling of never having enough time!”
Deanna retired from her teaching position in 2009 to help care for her grandchildren, but she certainly has not stopped caring for others and for her community. Deanna is a member of the Ladies Village Improvement Society helping to keep Sag Harbor beautiful with flowers, gardens and lighted wreaths. She volunteers at the Sag Harbor Food Pantry preparing and distributing food for those in need. She is acting secretary of the Sag Harbor Historical Society. “I really like learning about the history of Sag Harbor, about Annie Cooper Boyd and her beautiful artwork. I love working there as a docent and talking to people that visit the historic house. The artwork is beautiful, and it is amazing that the paintings she created on the walls and doors there have never been painted over. Everyone who visits loves it.”
Deanna also used to be a Girl Scout Leader and still helps one of the kindergarten classes prepare for their big show in May. “I miss the school community. Retiring has created a void. You can’t help but miss it. I felt such a sense of belonging there. I felt safe, valued and respected. People cared about you and cared what you thought.” I told her that I knew exactly how she felt. That school becomes part of your very being.
Sag Harbor has been an important part of Deanna’s life, and she values her time as a volunteer. “It is how you become a real part of your community: helping and getting to know people. It’s so fulfilling and nice to give back to this beautiful town.”
Teaching is certainly one of the most crucial vocations and one that is so vital to all of humanity. It is a job that leaves you rich in memories and a sense of accomplishment. Your students become part of your extended family, and you form bonds that last a lifetime. And so we thank Deanna Lattanzio, and all of our wonderful teachers and staff, for their many years of dedication and helping to make Sag Harbor an amazing place to call “HOME.”