Of all the years of my life, I can honestly say that no year has flown by as fast as this one has.
My brother, Joseph DiPalma Jr., passed away a year ago April 23, 2010.
As a 35-year community advocate in West Islip, he served as president of the West Islip Chamber of Commerce and in many other positions that are too numerous to list. He loved this town.
The empty space left in our family is huge. But there is also a hole left in West Islip. My brother was many things but one thing he was not was a passive, sit-on-the-sidelines kind of guy. In order to change things, you must be involved.
“Be the change you want to see in the world,” as Mahatma Gandhi famously said.
My brother was not President of the West Islip Chamber of Commerce because he had a business to promote. He did not. He was not active in his community because he was running for political office. It was quite the opposite. He helped others get elected.
He was involved in this community from an early age because he loved West Islip and tirelessly sought to make West Islip a better place for its residents; especially its children.
His fingerprints can be found all over West Islip from new business start-ups to scholarship funds for high school students, to the annual Memorial Day Parade.
There are some in our town who hide behind their laptops, leaving “anonymous” comments about those in our community who are trying to make West Islip a better place.
Ask yourself this question – what have you done lately to improve the place you call home?
Diane Fontana, president of the West Islip Chamber of Commerce shared these sentiments with me. "Our time spent over the last year has been spent missing and mourning a great friend and important member of our community. We have striven to put Joe's name on what we do and our efforts to help out in our business and residential communities is our commitment to honoring the legacy he left behind. Our thoughts are with the DiPalma family during this anniversary of their loss and we hope that signs of his commitment to his community are comforting."
This loss has been unimaginable for me, my father Joseph, Joe’s wife Debbie and his two daughters, Jaimie and Brooke. His presence will forever be missed in our family; a hole that doesn’t close, a scab that never heals.
While the many things Joe did for his community are numerous and wonderful, my brother’s most important and everlasting legacy was and always will be his girls.
Jaimie is close to completing her freshman year at college and is a teacher’s assistant for underprivileged children in upstate New York. She was recently named “freshman of the month.”
Jaimie eloquently describes her feelings about her father this way; "Everyday, I wish you were here. As time goes on your voice fades away but your memory stays near. You may be far but I know in my heart you are here."
Joey’s youngest, Brooke has followed in her father’s giant footsteps of community involvement. She would accompany her dad throughout West Islip on his many duties and tasks he performed as President of the Chamber of Commerce. She successfully ran as President of the Class of 2014.
Wanting students to know they are loved and valued, she created P.S. I Love You Day at West Islip High School. Purple ribbons were sold with proceeds going to charity. The student body wore purple and in front of an assembly of students and faculty, Brooke told her story.
“I hope to make P.S. I Love You Day a yearly event in my school but I also want to make this day an annual event in all schools in West Islip and on Long Island. That is my goal,” said Brooke.
As I stated in the eulogy I gave at my brother’s funeral, “The legacy your dad leaves behind is greater and wider than you can imagine. Our void will never be filled and the void that your dad leaves in West Islip will never, ever be filled.”
"When you are walking down the street and you’ve got me on your mind, I am walking in your footsteps only half a step behind.
"And when you feel that gentle breeze or the wind upon your face, that’s me giving you a great big hug or just a soft embrace."
Carmela DiPalma authored this article.