By Annette McLoughlin
Her long relationship with the Rye City School District begins at that point in a stay-at-home mom’s life when she has packed her youngest off to kindergarten and sits down to enjoy the exquisite silence. For Deb Antonecchia, that quiet was interrupted by the ring of the telephone.
The call was from her mother who rang her from Rye High School where she worked as secretary to the principal. “One of my mom’s clerical co-workers in the Middle School was ill and needed long-term coverage, so, of course, my mom volunteered me to fill in now that my children were in school,” recalled Antonecchia with a smile. “That was the beginning of my long and unexpected career with the Rye City School District.”
Two years after she began, her temporary position became a permanent appointment, as the secretary to the Director of Athletics at that time, Dr. Bernie Miller. After a few years in the Athletic Office, she moved into the office of the Dean of Students, along with Joe DeRuvo, who was being promoted after a long tenure of teaching at Osborn. It was in this position that she touched so many lives, for a total of almost three decades.
All who were lucky enough to work with her, describe her as kind, thoughtful, and compassionate. Rye Middle School Principal Dr. Ann Edwards, who knows her well, said she is the “ideal mix of professionalism and compassion. Debby is one of the most graceful women I have ever known. She is able to put aside whatever personal challenge she may be facing in order to help a middle school child open his or her locker or wait for a ‘meeting’ with the assistant principal.”
Antonecchia’s passion for her job, and most especially for her co-workers and the students, was evident in the way she approached every day and addressed every person. Asked about cherished memories of her time at RMS, she said, “I have struggled to come up with special memories, but to be very truthful, each and every one I have taken with me is special. I looked forward to going to work every single day. There was never one day in all those years that a child didn’t make me smile. Everyone should be as fortunate to have had a career that they love as much as I did.”
Math teacher Alex Tejera described the way she selflessly brought people under her wing and possessed innate grace. “From the time I arrived at Rye Middle School, Debby has been a second mother to me. She seems to know exactly the right thing to say and goes out of her way to help me and then follow up to make sure everything worked out.”
Science teacher Michele McRedmond recalled how compassionate and vital Antonecchia was in a very difficult time in her life. “She went above and beyond. In the last year and a half, my daughter suddenly lost her father and then I lost my sister. Honestly, I knew that no matter what, my classes and students would be taken care of because Debby would make sure of it...and she would find the time to check in on me.”
She was a fount of RMS information and everyone’s daily question-answerer and problem-solver. “Ask Deb”, according to many, may have been the most common phrase in the building these past decades.
Dr. Edwards praised Antonecchia for her levelheaded approach to the daily drama that is inevitable in a building full of adolescents. “Debby was able to remain calm in the sometimes chaotic world of the middle school. She knew how to cover classes, manipulate the schedule, and keep people happy with room assignments.
English teacher Michael Massett added, “Debbie had her finger on the pulse of the middle school. She knew the ins and outs of how the school operated, treated the staff like family, and knew each and every child that went through the doors.”
Antonecchia shared that it has been “a joy to see generations of Rye students pass through the hallways during my tenure.”
A Garnet legacy and small town devotee, she basked in the personal connections and familial continuity of Rye. “My mother was a proud Rye High graduate, as were I and my siblings, and then my children. I have been delighted to see so many of these kids grow up, have families of their own, and remain right here in Rye.” She It became commonplace for a parent who was a Rye alumni to walk in the office, see me, and exclaim in amazement, “Oh my gosh, are you still here?”
Deb Antonecchia retired this month, so she won’t be there when everyone returns from Christmas break, but the memories will linger on.