Karen Purcell: Wife, Mother and Devoted Fan

The news hit with the subtlety of a sledge-hammer.

Karen Purcell passed away on Jan. 30. She left behind her husband,  and three wonderful children.

Rhyme nor reason needn’t apply here. Karen was just 53.

She and her husband, Tim, have seen their fraternal twin daughters, Eileen and Jamie, excel in college, both as students and athletes, and most importantly, as responsible young adults.

The Purcells’ son, Michael, a sports encyclopedia, outstanding golfer and as nice a young man as they come, is in high school.

Karen and Tim never asked for accolades as they raised their children. They just did their job.

11086321-largeThe Purcell family, through the years.

When Eileen and Jamie were ready to start high school, their parents had a tough decision to make. While the family resided in Nutley, there was a thought of sending both to Mount St. Dominic Academy, a private all-girls school in Caldwell.

Eileen was an up and coming star at shortstop, Jamie a stud catcher, when they started high school in the fall of 2008. Both were above-average students.

Eileen opted to attend Nutley High, Jamie decided MSDA would be the place for her.

Karen Purcell, a woman whose smile defined her exterior, and I would become friends while her daughters were in high school. As graduation neared for her girls in 2012, she took some time to reflect on what it was like to have them at different high schools.

11086281-large(Left to Right) Karen Purcell, Jamie, Eileen and Tim Purcell following a Nutley at Mount St. Dominic Academy softball game in late May of 2012. It was Eileen’s final high school game after a marvelous career at shortstop at Nutley High School.

“Looking back, Tim and I couldn’t be happier with the way things went,” Karen told me on the day MSDA played Nutley in what would be Eileen’s final high school game, in late May of 2012.

“The Mount was the ideal spot for Jamie. She would have done well at Nutley, but the structure of a private school was better for her. Eileen? (Karen giggled). The Mount wouldn’t have been for her. Having them at different schools was a challenge, but it turned out great.”

With the girls at different schools and playing softball on usually the same day and time, Karen and Tim would alternate which game they’d attend. On the occasion when MSD and Nutley would play each other, the itinerary was easy.

In 2011, Nutley and Mount St. Dominic played for the Essex County championship at Ivy Hill Park in Newark. Nutley won, 3-0. Afterward, a noticeably emotional Tim reflected on watching his daughters play against each other.

To paraphrase, he hated it, because like any parent, he didn’t want to see a child be disappointed.

Jamie took it all in stride, saying it was “all good.”

Eileen would later say, “(Jamie and I) never talked too much about our teams during the season. When we beat Livingston in the county semi (to assure a berth in the final opposite Mount St. Dominic), Jamie and I didn’t even see each other that night, and we live in the same house. When we won, we talked about the game that night for a few minutes and then moved on. She’s my sister and that tops anything on the field.”

As they grew up in high school, Eileen and Jamie turned from shy to well-rounded young adults, with sparking personalities.

If it’s true that the apple never falls far from the tree, and thanks to some caring and attentive parenting, Karen and Tim’s children are doing well.

Karen Purcell was a loving wife and mother. She would stay close to her daughters, but wanted them to thrive on their own, as well. In the craziness of the high school softball circuit and the hundreds of games in the fall, summer and spring, Karen often knew the score when it came to coaches and college scouts, but she wanted her daughters to learn that process, as well.

After the twins graduated, Karen, Tim and I stayed friendly. Karen did some work at a prestigious country club in Union County and she and I had the chance to speak during an event at that club last year. Of course, most of the conversation revolved around how her kids were doing in college.

Karen and I had just met up about 10 days ago. She told me that Eileen was heading back to school (at Central Connecticut State) after the holiday break, while Jamie would be home a few more days before going back to The College of New Jersey. Both girls are juniors and playing softball on the collegiate level.

To try to comprehend Karen’s passing will be impossible. God has chosen to welcome her home, and there’s no questioning that.

Tim, Jamie, Eileen and Michael, along with a host of family and friends, will need to grieve in their own way. We can only hope that they will be buoyed by the support, love and friendship of those closest to them.

I will miss Karen’s very dry sense of humor, that sly smile and directness. You always knew where you stood with her, and for that, I’ll always be grateful.

Hours after her mother’s passing, Jamie took the time to write me after I had posted a remembrance of her mother. She wrote the following: “Thank you Mr. Lamberti for that post of us. It just brought the three of us too tears. Such great times. My mom and I were just talking about you two weeks ago and how great you were to us and her. And we are forever thankful!”

That says all you need to know about the quality of the Purcells.

Karen’s legacy will live on with her children, and somewhere, Karen is flashing that smile once again.

She did a good job.




By mike051893

Fifth Annual Gift of Life Duals will once again honor Big D’s legacy of giving back

At 44 years old, Michael DiPiano had indeed entered the cross roads. With his health deteriorating because of diabetes, the Nutley native was on dialysis for kidney failure and had been read his Last Rites. He was a devoted husband and father of three, a well known wrestling coach and athletic director in New Jersey. But now, his life was seemingly coming to an end.

That was 20 years ago. Today, DiPiano (Big D to his friends) is beginning the 64th year of his life. What changed the course for this man?

“The greatest gift of all,” DiPiano said with a smile. “I’ll never be able to repay that gift.”

The gift was an organ transplant. In DiPiano’s case, it meant a new lease on life, after receiving a kidney and pancreas on Oct. 25, 1998. The organs were donated by a man we’ll know simply as Sean, a 21-year-old who, on Oct. 24, 1998, was killed in an automobile accident. Sean had indicated on his driver’s license that he wanted to be an organ donor in the event of his death.

DiPiano had never meant Sean, but he lives life every day with the constant reminder that Sean is indeed a part of him.

“Back in 1995, I was told I would need a double transplant because of a nearly 30-year battle with diabetes,” DiPiano recalled. “I remember a year later, I was at the Olympics in Atlanta and I was told to get to a hospital right away. My sugar was high but I thought I’d be okay. Later that summer, when I was back home, I was rushed to St. Michael’s Hospital and got so sick that (St. Benedict’s Headmaster) Father Edwin (Leahy) read my Last Rites, and they were already planning my funeral at St. Benedict’s.”

10478566-largeMike DiPiano Sr. (right) with Delbarton wrestling coach Bryan Stoll (left) and state champion Guy Russo of West Essex at the Gift of Life Duals in 2012.

At that time, Dr. Leon Smith stepped in, through a contact of Fr. Leahy’s. A renowned Internist who specializes in infectious diseases, he assessed DiPiano’s condition. “Whatever he did, he took me from a five to 10 percent chance of surviving,” DiPiano recalled. “He saved my life, because even Father Edwin said ‘if he can get to 10 percent, he’ll make it.’”

Having administered the last rites to DiPiano, Fr. Leahy knew a higher power was looking out for DiPiano.

“If it weren’t for Dr. Smith and the Grace of God, we would have lost him a long time ago,” Fr. Leahy said. “He went from a 5 percent chance of survival to the poster child for organ transplant. It’s a great overall story.”

DiPiano’s new lease on life will be recounted at the fifth annual Gift of Life Wrestling Duals, set for this Saturday at Northern Valley-Demarest High School. With a wrestling theme of ‘Organ Donation is a Major Decision’ as a backdrop, there will be eight teams competing, including the host school, Demarest, which is coached by DiPiano’s eldest son, Mike, Nutley, coached by youngest son Frank, along with Delbarton of Morris Township, Garfield, Montville, Bergenfield, St. Benedict’s and Robbinsville.

fd1Mike DiPiano and youngest son, Frank, after Nutley won the 2012 Essex County Tournament championship for the first time in school history. Frank is Nutley’s head coach, and has since led Nutley to three straight District 14 championships, as well.

Wrestling begins at 9:30 a.m. with the finals set for approximately 3 p.m. This is the second year that the Duals will be held at Demarest, after being contested at Nutley High since the inception in 2011.

DiPiano’s association with St. Benedict’s Preparatory School in Newark is legendary. As the wrestling coach there, he amassed a record of 274-89, and was named the state’s Coach of the Year by the Star-Ledger in 1987. He is a member of the St. Benedict’s Hall of Fame, as well as the USA Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. After coaching at St. Benedict’s, DiPiano became the school’s athletic director. Now retired as the A.D., he remains associated with St. Benedict’s.

In May of 2011, he received the school’s highest honor to a Lay person, the Medal of St. Benedict’s.

“Mike DiPiano helped build this place,” Fr. Leahy said of St. Benedict’s. “He must have held a thousand different positions here. He was the spine of the school.”

10513806-largeMike DiPiano Sr. along with sons and current wrestling coaches Michael (left) and Frank.

DiPiano’s family, wife Karen, daughter Michelle and sons Michael Jr. and Frank had never given up on the rock of their family beating any kind of odds.

“My kids were incredible during the toughest times,” Karen DiPiano recalled. “We’re a close family and everyone took a part in being there for him. We all believed he’d get better.”

DiPiano was on dialysis for nearly two years, and at the top of the list for a transplant, before fate intervened in October, 1998.

“Back then, everyone used beepers to keep in touch,” DiPiano said. “I’m out with a friend and the beeper goes off, and I thought it was his. But he looked at me, and said ‘no, it’s yours’. That beeper was there only to inform me of a possible transplant match, so when I returned the call, I knew things would be happening quickly.”

When DiPiano was informed that there was a match for his kidney and pancreas, there was little time to get to know who the donor was. The surgery was scheduled for Oct. 25, 1998, a date which is clearly evident on Michael’s right arm in the form of a tattoo.

get-attachment.aspxThe tattoo on DiPiano’s arm, honoring Sean.

“The surgery lasted about eight hours,” DiPiano recalled. “I was in the hospital about seven days. The biggest concern after a transplant is that the body could reject it, but everything went well. I could tell pretty quickly how much better I was feeling. I don’t think I really knew how sick I was until after the transplant.”

DiPiano actually has three kidneys now. “They don’t remove the old kidneys, they kind of stored them in my body,” he said with a laugh. “The one working kidney is in the normal place.”

With a new pancreas, DiPiano’s diabetes is no longer the concern it once was. With his blood sugar near normal, he doesn’t need to take insulin, but is careful with his diet.

As his health improved, DiPiano returned to work at St. Benedict’s in January of 1999. “I might have gone back a little too early,” he said, “but I felt like I was ready.”

He also wanted to know more about Sean.

“Normally, the process with a donor is that it’s anonymous,” DiPiano said. “I have gotten to communicate with Sean’s mother through E-mail, and while I’ve never met her, I hope to one day.”

DiPiano’s passion is talking about the importance of organ donation. He has been to numerous high schools in New Jersey, where he usually begins by showing a film clip about Jason Ray, the 21-year-old mascot for the University of North Carolina basketball team who was struck by a car and killed in 2007 while walking to a diner on Route 4 in Ft. Lee. (Lee was there because the basketball team was in New Jersey for the NCAA Eastern Regional).

“Jason was a organ donor, and that film really has an impact on the kids,” DiPiano said. “It goes on to show the many people Jason saved by being a donor. It’s very emotional.”

On the surface, DiPiano is a hard-nosed individual, a man’s-man who takes no prisoners, so to speak. But he has no problems expressing his emotions on this subject. He recalls attending the first Transplant Games, for those athletes who are recipients of organ donation, in Minnesota eight years ago.

“When I went to the first Transplant Games, it was such an overwhelming feeling for me,” DiPiano, his eyes welling, recalled. “That’s when I had the tattoo made, to honor Sean, the date of my transplant, as well as the initials of a very close friend, Peter Kupczak.”

DiPiano’s message has resonated well in New Jersey, where the theme of Saturday’s tournament will focus on the need for people to be organ donors.

Michael Sr. has been to numerous Transplant Games since 1998, both in the United States and abroad, including Thailand and Australia. DiPiano has competed in athletic events at the games. He speaks constantly on the need to be an organ donor. He is very much involved with the work of the National Kidney Foundation, as well as the New Jersey Sharing Network, which procures tissues and organs.

“Over 110,000 people are waiting for an organ donation of some sort,” DiPiano said. “Twenty five die, waiting, each day. It is truly amazing what medical science can do when someone gets a new lease on life with a heart, lung, pancreas, kidney or liver. It’s amazing.”

Mike DiPiano is indeed an amazing man. He thanks his family, his friends and loved ones for the constant support. And he remembers a young man named Sean.“I’ll never be able to thank him enough,” DiPiano said.

“I just hope I can meet his mom one day and tell her that.”DiPianoM_122012_BT_tif_Mike DiPiano, Sr., hosts a Christmas party every year at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston for children who have had, or will be receiving, an organ transplant. He’s here with his reliable ‘Elves’. 

By mike051893

John Engel: Husband, Father, Doting Grandfather and Wonderful Friend

John Engel’s legacy will be easy to define.

He was an honest, hard-working man, as loyal as they came, with a dry sense of humor, and a legendary scowl.

In the banking business, he demanded excellence, and when it was attained, he rewarded it.

As a husband, father and eventual grandfather, he was the proverbial putty in the hands of those who loved him most.

John was called home on Jan. 6, after a long and courageous battle with an illness. As he worked to stay in good health, through rounds of treatment, he never complained, other than to say he was tired on certain days. He wanted to enjoy as much time as possible with his wife, Jan, and the couple’s daughters, and the grandchildren. It was just recently that John and Jan had purchased a beautiful new home in Teaneck, and John couldn’t wait to move in.

John and I went back a while. I first met him in 1982, when I was a newcomer to the banking business. We both worked at National Community Bank of New Jersey. He was a branch manager at the time, at an office in Carlstadt. I was a management trainee who was assigned to work in his office for a few days.

Eventually, John moved up to the rank of Vice President and Regional Administrator in what was referred to as ‘Region 3’ at NCB, which encompassed northern Bergen County, including Teaneck, where John lived, Englewood, Hackensack, South Hackensack, Ridgefield, Edgewater and Norwood. John was a natural for that RA role, which required a strong background in branch operations. He was never the guy who enjoyed making the business calls on prospective customers, but loved to delve into the guts of banking, making sure all the branches he was assigned to administer were towing the line.

get-attachment.aspxMy friend, John Engel.

In 1986, I was named a branch manager in John’s region, and for the next eight years, we became pretty good friends. He would always be on my case about something, making sure my office in Ridgefield, and later in Englewood, was following strict procedures. John taught me the importance of diligence, of following up and never thinking I was too good at my job.

He and our Senior Officer, Mike Ferrara, ran a fun region. Mike was the ultimate businessman, always looking to make a good commercial loan while John was the guy making sure the money we made on loans wasn’t slipping out the back door in the form of poor auditing control.

I eventually became a Vice President at NCB, through Mike and John’s guidance, and will tell you those were wonderful times to be in the business.I remember those legendary barbeques at John’s house on Memorial Day weekend. John loved car racing and usually the barbecue was on the day of the Indianapolis 500. So, John would use the VCR to tape the race, and made sure none of us would tell him who won before he could watch it that night.

When NCB was purchased by the Bank of New York in 1993, John’s administrative duties moved him onto a new bank, where I eventually joined him at the Trust Co. of New Jersey. We would also work together at a bank in Union, NJ. John eventually retired from banking a few years back, and I’m happy to say we remained good friends.

We would have dinner once a month, for a while, and he had that same crazy, dry sense of humor. We’d reminisce about the people we worked with during the NCB days and kid about the fact that he detested flying in an airplane. When we worked together at NCB, and I went on a vacation to California, he’s often kid me to take flight insurance and name him as the beneficiary.

When he was diagnosed with an illness last year, he called me to say he was optimistic about his future. We would e-mail each other regularly, and I kept telling him I would love to stop by and have some pizza with him, just to catch up. He said we would, but unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

On Jan. 7, his wife Jan sent me a note to give her a call. I had a feeling it wasn’t going to be an enjoyable call, but when she said he had died the night before, it still hit home.

There are people who leave an indelible impression on one’s life, simply by being a good man.

John Engel was such a person. He did what a man is supposed to do, and wanted no fanfare in return. In true John Engel fashion, his last e-mail to me, on Dec. 17, 2014, was one of his usual crazy political messages, which always drew a laugh, or two.

Thank you, John, for being a friend and teaching much more than what it took to succeed in business. I’ll miss those crazy e-mails with a political overtone that we both agreed on, and I’ll miss not having those dinners with you.

God Bless you, John.

Until we meet again.

By mike051893