The Music Man may be one of America’s best-known Broadway and Hollywood fictional classics. But within the Patchogue-Medford community, spanning nearly three-quarters of a century, The Music Man was very real, in the person of the revered and very much beloved Eugene Romeo. Many generations of Pat-Med students benefited directly or indirectly from Mr. Romeo’s prolifically generous inspiration in ways musical, spiritual, and educational.
Born in Patchogue in 1914, Gene was perhaps the community’s first superstar, a vocalist and violinist whose talents were nurtured in the P-M schools and nationally recognized. Before his high school graduation in 1932, he was selected to perform in the first violin section of the National High School Orchestra in Cleveland. As a gifted tenor, he was awarded a voice scholarship by the internationally renowned teacher Isidore Luckstone, and he became a featured performer as both a singer and violinist in Boston University’s glee clubs and orchestras. In 1939 he returned to Patchogue to take a job as music director at Medford Avenue Elementary as the first Italian-American teacher to be hired by the P-M district. His tenure was interrupted by his service in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1942-46, after which he resumed teaching, this time at Bay Avenue School. In 1953, Mr. Romeo was named music supervisor for the entire district, a position he held until his retirement in 1979. During these years of growth, his commitment to expand the district’s music program was unyielding. He hired a steady string of superb teachers, expanded musical repertoires, bought new instruments, and most important, made it a practice to visit with students from kindergartners through high schoolers to promote and inspire in them an appreciation for and love of music.
As if his fame and following for the wonderful work he did in the schools was not enough, Mr. Romeo won even wider acclaim for the spectacular popularity of the North Patchogue Fire Department Marching Band, which he founded in 1947 and led for more than three decades, and was consistently ranked among the finest such units in New York State. Hardly anyone who ever attended Patchogue’s annual Fourth of July parade from the 1950s through the ’70s will ever forget the sight and ground-shaking blare of the oncoming band, powered by its front line of booming trombones. There may not have been 76 of them, but they were most certainly led by Patchogue’s very own Music Man. Mr. Romeo passed away in 1998.