DePiro left his mark on several communities
Friends remember former teacher, 37, for kindness, laughter
At 6-foot-5 and 300-plus pounds in high school, Adam DePiro could have gone on to play professional football, but that wasn’t his dream.
The closest he got to the NFL was as an extra, posing as a football player, in the 2011 Batman movie, “The Dark Knight,” filmed in Pittsburgh.
“He was so proud of that,” said friend Julie George. “He got to take a nap on Heinz Field.”
Julie is the wife of Matt George, one of DePiro’s many friends from Bishop Guilfoyle Catholic High School.
The Georges admired DePiro’s integrity and character so much that they named their infant son after him.
Now a little older, Mason Adam George calls DePiro “Uncle Adam.”
But the couple’s happy memories of DePiro are tinged with sadness these days because they know their friend won’t get to see Mason grow up.
DePiro died March 8 at the age of 37 after his brain cancer returned for a third time. He was buried Saturday.
He had packed a long resume of living into his brief life, finding his destiny as a teacher and working at three area schools, coaching sports and a Lego team, volunteering his time at his church and for charities and inspiring others to follow his career path.
But it’s his ready smile and infectious laugh that people remember most.
“He incited so much laughter in you it would make your sides hurt,” Julie said.
Then they talk about his kindness, even as a teenager.
Matt George recalled once when DePiro invited a shy student who sat behind him in class to join the school ski club, even though he didn’t know the boy.
“That’s who he was,” Matt said. “He just wanted to make sure everybody was included.”
That’s how Tom Irwin, varsity football coach at BG for 39 years, remembers DePiro.
“Well, of course, his size; we were really blessed to have him, but it was his attitude, more than anything,” Irwin said.
DePiro played offensive and defensive tackle. With many schools vying for him, DePiro chose Shippensburg University.
“He was very receptive to coaching,” Irwin said. “When you have that kind of chemistry, you can build a rapport.”
At Shippensburg, DePiro majored in business administration, planning to someday take over his father Robert’s business franchise, Pal-Mino’s Pizza.
But that wasn’t his dream, either. He found that what he really wanted to do was teach, like his mother, Kathleen, who teaches logistics at the Greater Altoona Career and Technology Center.
He enrolled at Mount Aloysius College and also worked as a substitute teacher and teaching assistant at GACTC while earning his teaching certificate.
DePiro left no doubt that he’d finally found his calling, said Lanny Ross, former executive director of GACTC.
“Adam just wanted to be a teacher,” he said. “He was very much engaged in the education of young people.”
At Mount Aloysius, one of his professors called him “That very special student that professors may only have once or twice in a career.”
“Adam was in one of the first classes I ever taught at the Mount,” said Julie Smith, chairwoman of the justice, law and society department. “He told me he wanted to be a teacher. He wanted to give back. He became a creative, dynamic educator and a deep thinker.”
DePiro had a unique way of teaching, incorporating photos he took from his travels “from Gettysburg to Guam,” Kathleen said.
When he’d visit friends and family, he’d coax them to see local historical places, and he’d take plenty of photos. He’d then use those photos in the classroom to show his students that history is real, not just facts in a dull textbook.
But one day seven years ago, while he was teaching at Tyrone Area Middle School, his dream skidded to a halt when he suddenly collapsed.
The students knew what to do and called for help right away. Doctors found a brain tumor and removed it. He returned to teaching a few months later, even working on and finishing his master’s degree in education at Saint Francis University.
Then, the cancer came back a few years later. He could not return to full-time teaching, but got a job as an adjunct professor at Mount Aloysius. He taught there until the cancer returned.
“Adam will always be remembered for his ‘kid-at-heart’ personality and his genuine passion for history,” said Kristen Pinter, principal at Tyrone’s middle school.
One of his former students, Alesia Daly, who is studying to be a teacher at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, said DePiro was one of the teachers who inspired her. She admired DePiro because of the way she felt when she was in his classes, she said.
He once brought in a paper he’d written for a course he was taking that he’d gotten an A-plus on, and he wanted to show it to his students.
“He was proud of that, and he wanted to share that with us,” she said. “I think that’s a skill that a lot of us, even when we’re older, don’t have, being proud of ourselves, and showing it.”
That’s something she’s already doing with her classes as a student teacher.
“I always try if I do something worthwhile or just something fun. I come in and share it with my kids,” she said. “I don’t know if I would have done that without knowing him.”
One of DePiro’s last wishes was to establish a scholarship at Mount Aloysius for students pursuing an education degree. To contribute to the fund, visit www.gofundme.com/depiro-scholarship.