From 1976 to 2002, Dale Alan Zurbrick of Glen Cove, who was known to many simply as “Z,” taught music and led theater programs in the Glen Cove City School District. He had a lasting impacting on many students’ lives, and even after his days as a teacher, he remained a source of support and inspiration for his colleagues, and his former students.
Zurbrick’s life lessons live on in the memories of many who were saddened to hear of his death, on June 29, at age 74. Former students and staff held a digital memorial on Aug. 15. They are also collecting signatures of those who would like to see the Glen Cove High School auditorium named after him, and soliciting funds for scholarships in his name.
“It doesn’t require a petition, it doesn’t require a school board vote — Dale, that auditorium . . . is going to have your name on it because it’s yours,” Jennifer Zeitlin, a 1984 graduate, said during the memorial service. “It always was yours. And you gave each and every kid who ever walked into it the support and confidence and the inspiration to be their very best and to be wherever they were and ever wanted to be.
“In short,” Zeitlin added. “I know I am who I am today because I knew you.”
Bill Dione, a former middle school music and theater director, recalled meeting Zurbrick, his colleague and lifelong friend, in a hallway of Finley Middle School, as Dione was decorating his bulletin board. They ended up talking for hours, and Zurbrick told Dione about his teaching experience in the Bronx.
The two taught together for five years. “Every day was a new experience with Dale, as we spent time together working and a lot of good times laughing,” Dione said during the memorial service. “He talked about his years teaching in Clarence, New York, and about the theater program and the shows that they did, and he said, ‘We could do the same thing here in Finley,’ and sure enough, we did.”
In the fall of 1976, the two started the Drama Club, and the following year, they directed the school’s first full-scale musical, “Bye Bye Birdie.”
Dione noted that a lot of people who tuned in to the memorial service, which was hosted by Zoom and broadcast on Facebook, were involved with “Bye Bye Birdie” as children.
“When he left [the] middle school to go to the high school in 1981,” Dione said of Zurbrick, “I remember what he said to me. He said, and I quote, ‘I’m off to see the wizard,’ meaning the wizard was his new principal and it was the beginning of a new start at Glen Cove High School.”
Mike Albergo, a member of the class of 1987, was involved behind the scenes with many theater productions at the high school, including “Noises Off.” Albergo said that as an adult, he realized how difficult it must have been to direct such a production with teenagers as the cast and crew.
But Zeitlin’s sister-in-law, Dr. Belinda Basaca Zeitlin, class of 1988, who is now a pediatrician, said that Zurbrick treated his students like adults. “He’s the type of teacher that you would always remember,” she said, adding that her husband, Jennifer’s younger brother, Ben Zeitlin, was also a student of Zurbrick’s. “I was talking to [other] graduates,” Belinda said, “and some of them were like, ‘Yeah, I stopped doing theater, but I played football in college and he would come to my college football games.’ And I organized something in my medical school called Teddy Bear Hospital Day, and he came to that up in Albany. I told him, ‘I got all [these] skills from you, Z.’”
Albergo stayed with theater and production long after high school, and he said Zurbrick was always there for him. “I ended up moving out to California, and I worked for Warner Brothers and Disney and decided that wasn’t for me,” Albergo recounted. “My first love was theater, so I went back to theater, and I ended up getting a job in a musical, my first theater job, produced by Michael Jackson. It was the only Michael Jackson-produced musical, called ‘Sisterella.’”
When Albergo was heading to Germany and Austria to run an overseas production of the show, he recalled, he was nervous because he had never worked with props before. So he called Zurbrick. “I was in a panic, and said, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’ and he calmed me down. He told me how to set up a prop table and how to label everything and make sure that the actors place everything back where it belongs. I appreciate Dale. Dale was always a life-saver.”
Albergo said that he and Zurbrick remained friends for life, and would often meet for lunch near Lincoln Center, where Albergo worked for the Metropolitan Opera. “His favorite was Chinese food,” he said.
“We would meet up and he would get me updated about his students,” Albergo said. “He loved all of you guys. He just loved everyone, and he loved life and lived it the way he wanted to.”
Many who took part in the digital ceremony said they had never met anyone like Zurbrick before, and that many of his lessons applied even outside the realm of music and theater.
“When I go to my son’s school concerts, I can hear Z’s voice: ‘Stand up straight, annunciate, sing to the back of the room,’” said Joyce Wong Naiman, a 1988 graduate, “and then I picture him, standing with the hip slouch, pretending to chew gum and saying, ‘The audience does not want to see you chew like a cow.’ I use his lessons every day in medicine, whether I’m talking to a patient or a room full of my colleagues or to my medical students. I make sure I annunciate, stand up straight and I do not chew like a cow.”
It’s no wonder that former students and colleagues of Zurbrick’s believe he deserves to have the high school auditorium named after him. And even though current students will never meet him, those who came before them hope that through a scholarship fund, they, too, can be a part of his legacy.
District Superintendent Maria Rianna said that once the petition is submitted, the Board of Education will form a subcommittee to review the request.