This Teacher Worked In One School Her Whole Life – But When She Died They Learned Her Real Identity

Genevieve Via Cava had spent much of her working life as a teacher of special education students. When the long-time educator passed away, however, the school district for which she had used to work received some incredible news. It turned out, in fact, that Via Cava had kept a surprising secret concealed.

Via Cava had grown up during the era of history known as the Great Depression. The stock market had crashed in 1929, and this in turn led to a ten-year period of economic crisis around the world. Perhaps, then, the future teacher’s experiences as a youngster shaped the way that she lived the rest of her life.

Meanwhile, in 1945 Via Cava started working as a special education teacher. She would end up being employed in the Dumont School District in Bergen County, New Jersey, until 1990, when she retired from the profession. And during that time, the instructor was known for her caring nature.

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“[Via Cava] was very kindhearted – sometimes with a rough exterior, but very compassionate deep down,” a friend of the teacher, Richard Jablonski, told NorthJersey.com in June 2018. “She was very loving and won people over with her beautiful smile.”

“[Via Cava] was an amazing woman who could light up a room just by walking in,” Jablonski added. “She had a smile that was unbelievable. She could talk to anybody [and] start a conversation with them, and by the time they walked away, they would be hugging.”

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Before Via Cava worked as a special education teacher, though, she taught regular classes. And that’s when she met James Kennedy; he was her seventh-grade English student and went on to become one of her good friends.

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Kennedy was subsequently employed as a director of special services in Dumont, while Via Cava was in the Child Study Team as a learning consultant. And after Via Cava’s death, Kennedy remembered how she would go the extra mile to help those around her. In particular, he told northjersey.com that the caring educator would suggest after-school groups to parents and assist ex-students in finding work after they had graduated.

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“[Via Cava] had an uncanny memory when it came to her students and could remember things that happened a long time ago,” Kennedy continued. “She had a very good sense of humor. She made kids feel relaxed and was very approachable as a person.”

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When it came to her personal life, though, Via Cava was always frugal and used to clip coupons to help her save money wherever possible. The educator lived within her means and would not indulge in vacations or new clothes. And Jablonski believed that this was all because of her upbringing.

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“The Great Depression really left a mark on her,” Jablonski said. He recalled the time that the teacher refused to buy hearing aids, even though she needed them. “I asked her what she was saving for, since she could afford [the aids], and [they] would change her life for the better,” he continued.

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But it turned out that there was a significant reason behind Via Cava’s thrifty lifestyle. After she died in October 2011 at the age of 88, the retired teacher donated an astonishing gift to the Dumont Board of Education. And people couldn’t believe what she had been hiding all along.

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You see, Via Cava had built up a secret fortune while living minimally. And in her will, the life-long educator had left the Board of Education $1 million to put toward funds for the special education students. What’s more, the ex-teacher had informed Superintendent Emanuele Triggiano of her plans a few years before her death; he had laughed the idea off, however.

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“I thought it was a joke. But then we got the paperwork,” Triggiano told northjersey.com, explaining that it was clear how much Via Cava had cared for her pupils. He added in a June 2018 interview with CBS New York, “She must have had a tremendous connection with the district and the students.”

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And in June 2018 Triggiano also told CNBC, “I was not shocked that [Via Cava] would donate something; I was shocked by the number. She was a teacher here, very unassuming, very modest… [and] that’s a large sum of money for anyone.”

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For legal reasons, it took years for the check to arrive; however, the money is now with the school district. A $25,000 post-high school scholarship will now be given to a special-education student, beginning from the 2019 academic year. As for the rest of the cash? Well, it will be invested into a fund so that the scholarships can continue for as long as possible.

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Furthermore, although Jablonski had known Via Cava for over three decades and was the administrator of her estate, even he was shocked that the retiree was a secret millionaire. “I mean, she floored me with that. I didn’t know that she had that type of money,” he said to CBS New York.

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“[Via Cava] was a no-nonsense, no-frills woman but generous and big-hearted towards kids,” Jablonski added. And it may have made sense for the former teacher to give her fortune to others; after all, Via Cava’s husband had died in 1990, and she had had no children or close family of her own at the time of her passing. Yet even so, there was still a little left over for Jablonski himself.

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Yes, the secret millionaire had bequeathed her house and its contents to Jablonski in her will. His son and grandchildren are now dwelling in the home, with the remainder of Via Cava’s estate given to the school district. In addition, she left money to a hearing center, New Jersey’s animal shelters and The Salvation Army.

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But this is just the latest story of a supposedly modest person amassing a secret fortune to help others. Former secretary Sylvia Bloom saved up $8 million, for instance, which she would pass on to charity when she died, aged 96, in 2016. Meanwhile, Ronald Read was a gas station worker and janitor who made a lot of money through investments and living frugally. He subsequently left his $8 million savings to his local library and a nearby hospital after he passed away in 2014.

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As for Via Cava, Dumont School District director of special services Paul Barbato said that her generosity won’t be forgotten by the district – or its students. “It’s an eye-opening experience for them, because this opens more doors for opportunity,” he told CBS New York. And Jablonski would add of his late friend, “She’s leaving behind a lasting legacy.”

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