By Bob Uphues
Neil Pellicci, who spent 28 years as a top administrator at Komarek School in North Riverside until retiring four years ago, died unexpectedly but peacefully on June 5, 2019. He was 64 years old.
In all, Pellicci's career in education spanned 38 years after graduating with a degree in elementary education from Illinois State University. He briefly taught third grade in Arlington Heights before moving to Lace School in Downers Grove, where he taught fourth grade and met his future wife, Debra Kot.
Pellicci eventually became assistant principal before moving to Fairview School in Darien and Taft School in Lockport. He was named principal of Komarek School in 1987 — reportedly the school's first full-time principal — and would remain in that role until 2002 when he took on the role of superintendent.
In 2003-04, a school year during which he served as both superintendent and principal, Pellicci shepherded through a successful tax referendum to bolster the school district's finances, the last such tax increase approved by District 94 voters. Pellicci retired at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
Tom Criscione, hired as Komarek's principal in 2004, said Pellicci "gave his heart and soul to Komarek School."
"I've never seen a guy work harder," said Criscione, who would remain principal at Komarek until a year after Pellicci retired as superintendent. "All he cared about was doing what was best for North Riverside and Broadview. He forfeited a lot of family time to that."
Deborah Czajka, who served as president of the Komarek School D94 Board of Education for many years while Pellicci was superintendent, agreed with that assessment.
In a 2015 article in the Landmark, written to mark Pellicci's retirement, she said, "He was at everything, and you really don't see that at all with the new regimes that are coming in," Czajka said at the time. "That shows me a lot right there — somebody who cares and who's around."
Criscione said he and Pellicci remained close after leaving Komarek School and maintained interest in the district, particularly the fate of a referendum to overhaul the aging campus last spring.
The two spoke on the phone the day before Pellicci died, said Criscione, who'd just undergone a medical procedure. Pellicci had called to see what he could do to help.
"That's the kind of guy he was," Criscione said. "He really cared about people."
Diane Marelli, who was the choir director at Riverside-Brookfield High School for 20 years before retiring in 2016, credited Pellicci for that job.
The two had worked at Lace School in Downers Grove, and in 1995 Pellicci called Marelli to let her know about an opening for a music teacher at S.E. Gross School in Brookfield.
Within two days, Marelli had the job and a year later moved on to RBHS, where Pellicci remained close, attending the middle school music festivals Marelli would organize annually.
"He was the only administrator from the feeder schools present, supporting those students, teachers and me," Marelli said. "That spoke volumes about him."
Pellicci was born on Nov. 12, 1954 and raised in the Italian neighborhood around Taylor Street on Chicago's Near West Side. He lived in Lockport at the time of his death.
He was known as a physical fitness buff who for 14 summers was a lifeguard, beach captain and beach manager at Oak Street Beach and 12th Street Beach for the Chicago Park District. He ran several Chicago Marathons, completed triathlons and still played basketball often.
Pellicci was preceded in death by his father, Neal Pellicci, and his sister, Denise Pellicci.
He is survived by his wife of 40 years, Debra Pellicci (nee Kot); his children, Neil (Amy Darby) Pellicci, Derek (Christine) Pellicci and Nina (Travis Tejkowski) Pellicci; his grandchildren, Andrew, Sophia, Anna and Evelyn Pellicci; his mother, Leana (Benedetti) Zanardo; a sister, Tina (Mark) Smith; two nieces, Bianca and Gianna Smith and one nephew MarcAnthony Smith. Many more nieces and nephews, other relatives and dear friends also survive.
Services have been held. Memorial donations are appreciated to the American Heart Association or TLC Animal Shelter, Homer Glen.