Former mayor's journey from Malverne to Poland is a love story

Anthony Panzarella teaches Polish kids about his little hometown


Despite its small-town feel, there’s a bit of Malverne halfway across the globe.

Former Malverne Mayor Anthony “Tony” Panzarella brought his love of his town all the way to Poland, where he teaches English to elementary school students.

“People in Poland never heard of Malverne,” Panzarella, 83, said. “And I’d explain to them: this is a village in New York, on Long Island, where I come from.”

“At least they heard about our little corner of the earth,” he added.

Panzarella and his wife, Aurelia, live in her hometown of Warsaw, Poland for several months of the year. He began teaching English to the neighborhood kids. Once a week, they’d sit at his dining room table to learn together.

“I wouldn’t ever even think of charging,” Panzarella said. “It was just such a fun and rewarding thing to do.” 

He then started teaching at an elementary school in Goleniow, a small town to the northwest. Polish students are used to learning British English, but Panzarella noticed they had more fun with American English. He likes being that moment of joy in their day — wants the children to be able to wake up looking forward to school rather than dreading it, he said.

“When you’re in town and you’re walking around, the kids will come up to you,” he said fondly. “They recognize you from being their teacher. I park in the parking lot, and they all come running up to the car.”

The students wanted to learn more about American culture — specifically the little village their teacher came from. And what was it that piqued their curiosity? Panzarella’s favorite jacket.

When current mayor Tim Sullivan was sworn in last April, he invited the former mayors and presented them with a gift: a jacket that features a “Mayor” label and the Malverne village insignia. It became Panzarella’s go-to jacket in Poland.

“Pride,” Panzarella said. “I wore that jacket with pride. I was so happy. They’d see the Malverne patch on it, and they’d ask me what that was.”

The kids reveled in learning about the little American town.

“I showed them pictures of Malverne, and a couple pictures of Malverne’s holiday lighting and stuff like that, and they were really impressed,” he said. “They loved it. It made them want to learn more about our culture.”

That little town plays a bigger role in their English education than they realize — their teacher wouldn’t be in Poland if not for a Malverne love story.

Panzarella loves telling the story of how he and his wife met. She moved to Malverne during his tenure as mayor, and was employed by the county to work with senior citizens. A newcomer to the village, she and her son didn’t know there was no overnight parking allowed in Malverne, and they received tickets.

“The commissioner (at her job) happened to be a friend of mine at the time, and he called me and said ‘I have this lovely Polish girl working for me, and she got tickets, is there anything you can do to help her?’” Panzarella recalled. “I said, ‘well, I’m not going to fix any tickets, but I’ll talk to the clerk of the court and explain to her what happened.’”

Aurelia only had to pay a small fine, and called Panzarella to say thank you. Later, at the Malverne holiday lighting celebration, their mutual friend introduced Aurelia and Panzarella in person. And a week after that, the pair saw each other again at a county Christmas party. He asked her to dance. The rest is history — the two have been married for 22 years.

“Well, I fell in love with her,” Panzarella said. “She’s such an outstanding wife, and we’ve had such a wonderful marriage.

“And to have it happen the way it did, because I was mayor of Malverne, that’s another thing I have to credit to being elected mayor, is having this wonderful wife that I have.”

Panzarella has been involved in Malverne from every angle — from covering the town’s political beat as a young journalist, to moving there and becoming a local, to serving as its mayor from ‘99 to ‘07.

Though he has seen the town evolve over the past 60 years, its character remains unchanged — Malverne’s small town feel is a breath of fresh air, he said.

“It's a very welcoming feeling in Malverne,” Panzarella said. “It's quaint. It's friendly. And it's safe.”

And though he and Aurelia are world travelers — they’ve been to nine different countries, but to Panzarella, there is no place like home.

“Some of the places you go make you appreciate your hometown even more,” he said. “So it’s always wonderful to come home, no matter where you go in the world.

To know something familiar, and friendly, and warm.”