The Scholarship

by Thomas Greco, Publisher

This month will mark the sixth year since my sister Diane passed away. In some ways, it feels like so long ago, but in others, it feels like yesterday. Neither feels any good. And it never will.

After Diane passed, I wanted to keep her memory alive somehow. I wanted to come up with something that would live on for a long time, way beyond just our family. So later that year, I created the Diane Greco Sajle Scholarship for our hometown Nutley High School students. The challenges were going to be deciding who would get it, how much would it be and how would be awarded.

Part of the first challenge was determining the criteria. Now, my sister was an excellent student, but there were dozens of academic scholarships available. I didn’t want it to get lost in the shuffle. Diane was NEVER an athlete, but she was a big fan of all of the family members who were. But again, there were almost as many athletic scholarships as academic, so I didn’t want it to apply to that, either.

So I thought about my sister and how I would describe her. That was pretty easy. She was compassionate, dedicated and selfless. There it was. The idea would be to find a student with these qualities. But I was still stuck because it didn’t stand out. Okay, so we are giving out a scholarship to someone who is compassionate, dedicated and selfless. Big deal. For me, that just wasn’t memorable enough. 

I took some time to think it out, and I realized that, although Diane barely participated in sports, our family did have quite a legacy in the Nutley football program that went all the way back to the 1950s. In fact, from the late 1950s through 2015, there was always at least one Greco either coaching or playing football in Nutley, whether it was midget, junior, high school or flag. That led me to the idea of tying two things together. I wanted to award the scholarship not to the best or most talented football player, but to the “Most Valuable Teammate,” the one who best exemplified Diane’s compassion, dedication and selflessness towards family, friends and community.

The next step was to contact Nutley High School head football coach Steve DiGregorio. I had known Coach D since we played midget league football together a lifetime ago. We met up at my office, and I ran the idea by him. I told him that since I would never be able to get to see the games – come on, they played them at 1pm on Saturday afternoons; I’m in my deepest REM sleep at that time! – I would rely on the coaching staff to pick the scholarship winner. Coach D loved the idea. He was on board. 

(In an unfathomable string of ironies, not only did Coach D share those very traits my sister had, but he passed away just a few years later from the same pancreatic cancer that took Diane…two beautiful souls.)

The next step was to figure out how much. Now, trust me when I tell you that Diane was beloved by everyone she met. If I had put the word out that we were giving out a scholarship in her name, I am certain I could have raised a substantial amount in hours. But I didn’t want to do that. I didn’t want those she loved and who loved her to feel an obligation to give. So I set the amount at $1,000; however, when I told my niece Kate (Diane’s daughter) and my buddy Glenn Villacari (formerly of Parkway Auto Body) about it, they insisted on contributing. With their help, the scholarship’s initial amount was $2,000.

The last challenge was deciding when and where to give it out. Like most schools, Nutley holds awards banquets (many of which I had sat through) where they give out scholarships. I didn’t want to be a part of that. I didn’t want to get dressed up and wait through three hours of other awards and scholarships. Again, Diane’s had to be special. So after the football season, Coach D, our family and the winner’s family met up in the high school lobby where all the trophy cases were and awarded Tyler Genitempo the very first Diane Greco Sajle Scholarship. I had accomplished my goal.

Five years later, we just had the ceremony for the sixth and latest winner of the Diane Greco Sajle Scholarship, a nice kid named Aidan O’Halloran. (I never said the winner had to be Italian! LOL). And believe it or not, without asking anyone, over the years, many family members insisted on contributing to the scholarship, raising it currently to $5,000 and making it the second largest scholarship given annually to a Nutley High School student. 

It’s funny though. Once you open it up to others, all of a sudden everyone wants to have a say. One family member keeps asking, “Why can’t we open it up to girls?” Umm, it’s a football scholarship. Another asks, “Why can’t we add another family member’s name to it?” Umm, did that person die and I didn’t hear about it? Yet another wonders “What about other sports?” Umm, we have a football legacy in town. I’m sorry that no Grecos played or coached soccer. 

When all is said and done, all that matters is we are keeping Diane’s memory alive. And everything that it took to get here six years on is an incredible tribute to the person she was. 

Yet…in some ways, it feels like so long ago, but in others, it feels like yesterday. Neither feels any good. And it never will.

Want more? Check out the May 2024 issue of New Jersey Automotive!