Meet Nick Zeoli: Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal

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.

Young Nick Zeoli.

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.

Nick Zeoli, physical education teacher.

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.

Nick Zeoli, a few years ago.

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!)

11 responses to “Meet Nick Zeoli: Memorial Day Parade Grand Marshal

  1. Congrats Nick, I’ll try to bring the coach down.

  2. Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    Thank you for serving
    Thank you for teaching our kids
    Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

  3. Michael Calise

    Nick – you are a Saugatuck Hero!

  4. Susan Hopkins

    Thank you for serving, Mr. Zeoli. 🇺🇸

  5. Tom Feeley Sr

    Great honor Nick‼️🇺🇸

  6. Congrats Nick. And my best regards to Joanne, a fellow 1949 Staples grad. She was a great catch Nick.

  7. Fred Cantor

    Well deserved.

    Also, I believe Nick was a college football teammate of Andy Robustelli’s.

  8. Adam Schwartz

    Thank you for your service Mr. Zeoli!

  9. Charles Gies

    I remember Mr.Zeoli quite well, and it’s great to hear that he is still going strong. He was my phys ed teacher in Wilton for most of the time between fifth grade and my senior year of high school. I also remember him as a great football coach.

  10. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    Congratulations Mr. Zeoli. Thank you for your service to our country and to Westport and all the Students and athletes who gained from your knowledge and dedication.

  11. Ann Allard

    Thank you for your service Mr. Zeoli