Exactly one week ago I received an email from Sam Stellatella to see if I wanted to attend a Penn State Coaches Caravan in May that would feature Nittany Lions football coach James Franklin.

I had joined him and several others at one of these in the past.  However Sam thought that this appearance was in New York and I responded to his email by telling him it was actually in York, Pennsylvania.  He thanked me for the heads up and said he’d talk to me soon.

Late yesterday afternoon I was notified that Sam died over the weekend at his home in Toms River. He was 78 years old.  I’m not really sure how to describe him except to say he was the true definition of a “character.”

A native of Nutley he was a teacher who finished his career at Manchester Township High School where he also coached football.  Sam used his teacher contacts for a successful second career selling insurance and I never quite figured out how and why he used to hand out sample packets of Cold-Eeze when you saw him.  But who knows with him.

My dealings with Sam mostly centered on our joint affection for Penn State football and he had a direct connection to the blue and white.  He played football for the Nittany Lions and kicked the extra point in their first-ever bowl game victory, a 7-0 win over Alabama in the 1959 Liberty Bowl which was played in Philadelphia.  He was an active member of the Lettermen’s Club and organized several reunions back in State College for that 1959 squad.

Many of his friends and neighbors will fondly remember Sam as the one who would always be looking to get people together whether it be for dinner or a Broadway show in New York.  Usually he brought his camera with him and was always taking group pictures which he would then send to you later.

He simply loved being around people and his circle of friends included football coaches Lou Vircillo and Ron Signorino who joined him on a few adventures.

Family and friends will gather to pay their final respects tomorrow from 4 p.m. - 8 p.m. at the Timothy E. Ryan Home for Funerals on St. Catherine Boulevard in Toms River.  “Sammy Stell” was truly one-of-a-kind and you can be sure he’ll be organizing plenty of reunions once he gets past the pearly gates.


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