Type to search

Italians in America – Our Immigrant Stories: From the ‘other side of the tracks’ to inspiring others, educator’s aim is helping youths


Written by Tanya Tecce

As the firstborn son in the family, Fred Cappello’s father originally named him Salvatore after his grandfather. But his mother deeply wanted her son to “blend in” so she paid a nun 50 cents to change his name to Frederick. This wasn’t the first name change the family faced, although not at Ellis Island as one may think, but at St. Philomena’s elementary school. Irish nuns there changed Fred’s father’s and siblings’ surname from Coppola to Cappello.

Fred and Susan Cappello at the Temple Owls game, October 2013.

Grandfather Salvatore Coppola landed in South Philadelphia after immigrating to the USA from Avellino, Italy at just 17 years old. He moved to Lansdowne for a “job promise,” Fred shares. “He was a pick and shovel guy, a gravedigger. My heart goes out to him. What a hard worker, they all were. I get the chills when I think about them.”

Fred’s dad Ferdinando (who’s first name was also changed by the nuns, to Fred) married his mom Rose Romano and they had three children (Fred, Roseann and John) so when the draft arrived, Ferdinando did not have to go. It was a different story for Ferdinando’s brothers. “My uncles John, Lou and Tony all served in World War II. The youngest, uncle Tony was just 18 years old and served at D-Day and in Patton’s army and was awarded many medals.” His uncle John made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and was killed in the Philippines.

Fred coaching his football team, the Monsignor Bonner Friars, circa 1966.

Fred was a spirited boy and recalls he wasn’t the easiest student. The nuns were strict, “but I learned so much from them.” He loved sports, and played them all, excelling at football. He spent the summer seasons of his preteen years traveling to Italian festivals throughout New York and Pennsylvania, selling balloons and candies. In sixth grade, he went out for the football team, and by the following year they allowed him to play. His little neighborhood even had their own football club, the Tin Town Tigers, named so because of the metal roofs.

The little street he grew up on shared a party line as a phone, and Fred recalls the perils of wanting to talk to your girlfriend in those days. “A neighbor might interrupt you at anytime. Plus there was the train roaring by and you wouldn’t want her to know you lived near the railroad tracks, so you’d cover the phone to cover the sound, and your embarrassment,” he laughs.

Fred’s uncle, Sergeant Louis Cappello on left, World War II, Philippines 1942.

He continues “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, so I worked a 40-hour job after school at the paper box factory Slevins even though I was only fifteen. I’d leave school at 2:30, get to work at 3 and give my father my pay. He’d give me $5 to spend weekly.” Although Fred worked very hard, he got fired from that job after a fist fight with a fellow employee. His mom was very upset because they had a family image to look after, especially because his uncle Michael Romano was one of the first Italian Catholics on the police force (and went onto eventually become chief).

Higher education called him when he received scholarships to Temple, Villanova, South Carolina and Delaware; but the idea of college felt so strange, like something for the “other kids” so he turned them all down.

He went back to what he knew well, and began playing semi pro football. During this time he used to get his hair cut every 2 weeks (“when I had hair” he jokes) by his uncle. Without fail, uncle Joe Romano would urge him to go to college.

So Fred started a cycle of working 6 months on / 6 months off to attend college. He graduated in 5 1/2 years with a degree in Education, and minor in Sociology. The Education major finally cinched when a head coach at alma mater Bonner/Pendergast asked him to help, as you couldn’t coach unless you were a teacher in the public schools.

So Fred got a position at Bonner while still in college and coached there for 7 years. “I still see those kids today. I loved coaching them.”

Bonner recognizes Fred’s dedication to their students by including him in their Hall of Fame as well as the “Frederick L. Cappello MVP” award they created in
his honor.

Fred went onto earn his Masters at Rowan University and take a position as faculty curriculum coordinator. During his career with the New Jersey Department of Education, he’s made a significant positive difference creating and implementing new programs, including the support group the NJ Aviation Education Council. He’s also won many awards and honors including the 1991 Education Leadership award, for members who display excellence in education.

His contributions in education and coaching are so valued that when Fred tried to retire, Camden County recruited him to assist with their Academic and Technical Programs. Lucky for Camden County and their students, Fred remained for nearly 30 years as the Dean of Division of School and Community.

Fred Cappello’s upbringing helped shape his commitment to his family and his students. His dedication to education still makes a positive impact on many lives, and his guidance inspires many to stay in touch with him.

Fred and his wife Susan split their time between New Jersey and South Carolina. He is incredibly proud of his two sons Greg and Steve (both educators and lawyers), their wives Marianne and Dawn, his 8 grandchildren; and his step-daughter Caroline and her family.


Tanya Tecce

Tanya is an Anxiety Anthropologist and Family Alchemist sharing deep nervous system restoratives and healing family constellation work with her clients. Master certified in Transformational Psychology NLP, she curates decades of study and experience in neuroscience, psychology, family constellations, epigenetics, yoga, and ayurveda to heal mindset and fortify your nervous system so it feels safe for you to get what you want. She’s led retreats to Italy annually since 2014 and has worked with Today Media since 2003, IAH since 2019. To learn more about her powerful “suffering obligations of love” work visit: tanyatecce.lpages.co/protect-my-peace/

  • 1

Stay up-to-date with our free email newsletter

Keep a pulse on local food, art, and entertainment content when you join our Italian-American Herald Newsletter.