The ranks of World War II veterans are rapidly thinning.
One of these years, no one will remain from that world-changing conflict to honor at Westport’s Memorial Day parade.
But it seems like Nick Zeoli has been — and will be — around forever.
The 2019 grand marshal is a proud Saugatuck native. He was born in 1923 to Dominick (a firefighter), and Olympia Zeoli. On July 1, he will be 96 years young.
Zeoli was a star football, basketball and baseball player at Staples High School, on Riverside Avenue just down the street from his home.
He was offered a football scholarship to Gettysburg College. But with war raging, he enlisted in the Navy.
He was assigned to the USS Boston, a heavy cruiser. Zeoli spent 3 years in the Pacific Theater. His ship engaged in 13 major battles, including Okinawa.
He was promoted to Radarman 3rd Class, and received a commendation from legendary Admiral William Halsey Jr.
After discharge in December 1945, Zeoli enrolled at Arnold College (later absorbed into the University of Bridgeport). He earned a BA in physical education, then went on to receive master’s degrees from both Bridgeport and Columbia.
Zeoli spent his summers during college as head lifeguard at Compo Beach. That’s where he met 1949 Staples grad Joanne Scott.
They married in 1952. On June 13, they’ll celebrate their 67th wedding anniversary. Their children Steve, Chris and Nikki are all Staples alumni.
Nick’s grandchildren — Jennifer, Charlotte and Nicholas — attend Westport schools. All are on track to be 3rd-generation Staples graduates.
Zeoli began his career as a substitute teacher in Westport. But Wilton — newly opened as a high school — offered him a full-time job as phys. ed. teacher and head football coach.
He soon became Wilton’s first athletic director, and won national awards for his work.
He spearheaded the development of the high school field house — the first in New England. When he retired in 1994, it was named the Nicholas T. Zeoli Fieldhouse.
In Westport — where he always lived — Zeoli directed the Special Olympics program. He trained Special Olympics coaches in Pakistan and Bangladesh.
For many years, Zeoli emceed the Sportsmen of Westport awards ceremony. In 1985, the organization presented him with its Sportsmen Award.
Last June, Zeoli was honored by the Fairfield County Interscholastic Athletic Conference for his lifetime contribution.
There’s still plenty of life left in Nick Zeoli. He and his wife live now on a lake in Vermont.
He looks forward to making the trip south, and talking about nearly a century of life in Westport, and in war.
(This year’s Memorial Day parade kicks off on Monday at 9 a.m., at Saugatuck Elementary School. It heads down Riverside Avenue to the Post Road, goes over the Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Memorial Bridge, and takes a left on Myrtle Avenue before ending up at Town Hall. A ceremony — including grand marshal Nick Zeoli’s address — follows immediately, approximately 10:30 at Veterans Green. The parade and ceremony are two wonderful Westport traditions. Don’t miss them!)