Victoria’s Secrets: Celebrations of life

Larry Teich (third from r.) with his Geraldo Rivera Group Home family

Last week, we celebrated the lives of two men who have impacted thousands of lives.

Larry Teich came to the Life’s WORC group I founded in 1971 when we opened the first group home for children coming from Willowbrook and the community. As part of that first group, Larry’s home became the Geraldo Rivera Group Home in Little Neck, Queens, when it opened in the mid ‘70s.

I still remember the relentless calls of desperation from Larry’s dad Hy and loving mom Julie, early supporters of my “Willowbrook War” years and Life’s WORC. Larry was born with special needs and was supported by his fierce fighting family searching for help for their beloved child.

When the war to close Willowbrook in Staten Island was won and the courts supported state funding of group homes, my fearless Life’s WORC members decided to change our charter and open a home for children like my daughter Lara, who had been in the Infant Rehabilitation Buildings at Willowbrook and now could live in dignity as part of a community.

We found a perfect home perched high on a quiet tree-lined street with half an acre on Gaskell Road in Little Neck. But as soon as we signed the contract with the elderly couple who had built the stately brick house, the neighbors formed a civic association and sued us.

Sadly, people were so incensed that we would bring special needs children to their block, they even made death threats against me! I had to take my SCHNEPS license plates off my car!

Despite meeting neighbor after neighbor, those opposed to our buying the house could not be convinced we would not kill their property values or the neighborhood.

After months of town hall meetings, the court decision from Judge Angelo Graci gave us a victory and ruled that the house — and any group home — had the right to be in residentially zoned neighborhoods. 

With life-changing news reporting, advocacy and the fundraising support of Geraldo Rivera — the funds from a John Lennon and Yoko Ono concert at Madison Square Garden he organized helped make it happen — we bought the house and made it a home. 

It was justifiably named the Geraldo Rivera Group Home.

Hy Teich endlessly called me asking for a place in the first group home for his son Larry. After months of evaluations, he was accepted and I still remember Hy’s words to me: “I just hope I live long enough to see my son be able to feed himself.”

Well, within the year, the goal was achieved, with the help of the loving, caring and well-trained staff at the home.

Fast forward 50 years — five decades of devoted care — Larry passed away.

His surviving sister Ruby, now living in Florida, was in awe at the funeral, where she heard the loving words of support from Larry’s Life’s WORC family. Their acts of kindness and love for Larry was revealed by their mighty presence at his grave site.

That’s the power of our fight for the rights of people who have special needs. Larry lived a life of dignity and was cared for and supported to the end.

Larry’s parents are waiting at heaven’s gates to greet him. He’s freed of all his special needs.

May he rest in peace.

A special celebration 

Several days later, a hugely successful man who has devoted himself to multiple acts of kindness was saluted on his 91st birthday.

Joe Mattone was celebrated and surrounded by his wife, family and friends as they lovingly spoke about him at the party.

Mary Ann and Joe Mattone

Joe was born to a struggling Italian immigrant family who made sure their beloved son went to college and then law school. Fortunately for all of us, he is sharing his enormous success by endowing multiple programs at St. John’s University, St. Francis College and Thomas Aquinas College.

He’s also an “angel” for Futures in Education, helping to fund the Catholic education of thousands of young people, as well as many other groups in need.

I loved the words of St. John’s Rev. Bernard M. Tracey that night.

Rev. Bernard M. Tracey saluting Joe Mattone

“In New York, it’s hard to see the stars in the sky,” he said. “But tonight the brightest star in our midst is walking the earth in the form of Joe Mattone, who has shared his success with his community.”

I feel blessed to call him my friend. 

Happy Birthday, Joe!

A superb show 

Not far from my home in Quiogue, is a theater group performing in Quogue, the next town over.

Hampton Theatre Company is showing “Over the River and Through the Woods,” by Joe DiPietro.

The play is a professionally performed story about a close-knit Italian family whose grandson is moving across the country to Seattle, Washington, having accepted a promotion in his company.

George A. Loizides, Patrick C. Osborne and Amelia Chiaramonte and Carl DiModugno in rehearsal for “Over the River and Through the Woods” (Photo by Tom Kochie)

I laughed and cried watching the sadness and manipulation from his family to stop him from leaving them.

How we wish time could stand still, but life keeps changing us. Life is a struggle, and that is played out masterfully on stage. 

The play runs through Nov 13. Head on over and you, too, will love it! 

Visit hamptonstheatre.org for more information!