Story by Sara Paul
At 93 years young, Vito Magdelinskas looks back on a rich life that can be summed up in one word: service. An officer in the United States Navy during World War II, and then a long-time Warwick Valley teacher and coach, Vito is proud of a life giving of himself to help others.
Most locals recognize this now white-haired, sturdy gent as “Coach Mag,” the sports enthusiast who led boys’ basketball and football at Warwick Valley High School (WVHS) for 20 years. During his tenure as head basketball coach and assistant football coach, Vito saw his team through multiple championship games. He is a hall of famer in multiple halls, including the Football Coach Hall of Fame (recognized as football coach from 1953 to 1967) and the WVHS Boys’ Basketball Hall of Fame, where he was the first inductee.
A brave military man, Vito also holds several medals from his Navy years aboard the USS Bataan CVL-29, an aircraft carrier ship since retired. A second class petty officer in the supply unit, he was part of a gallant crew that earned five battle stars as they sailed through such places as China, Japan, the Philippines and the Pacific. The Navy soldiers on board were responsible for shooting down nine kamikaze pilots and sustaining a carrier that suffered multiple enemy blasts.
“I’m very proud of my service record and so proud to have served on that ship, as we were in constant danger. It leaves an impression on your mind. We were at war and anything could have happened at any moment,” said Vito.
Born on Feb. 27, 1925 in Wilkes-Barre, PA, a son of Lithuanian parents, Vito enlisted in the Navy when he was a junior in high school. Fortunately, Uncle Sam allowed the eager enlistee due time to finish high school. Vito graduated on Jun. 6, 1943 and by Jun. 8 had reported for basic training in Geneva, NY.
Returning home with six combat medals, Vito began collegiate work at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania in 1946. In 1951, he married Dorothy Smallow, and the couple had three children: Chip, Anna Jean, and Paul.
Vito received a Bachelor of Science Degree in Social Studies and English, excelling in football as a center on offense and linebacker on defense and winning two championships. The football star was inducted into the Mansfield University Hall of Fame in 1991.
“The president of the University presented it to me, and they drove me around the town and the field in a convertible. It was a great experience,” recalls Vito.
Pursuing graduate studies at New York University, Vito earned over 55 course hours, well over the amount needed for what would today be considered a Master’s Degree. The college grad moved to Florida, NY and embarked on his teaching career. His beginnings were at S.S. Seward Institute from 1949 to 1954 before moving home and to a job in Warwick. At Warwick Valley High School, in addition to sports, Vito was a Social Studies teacher and department chair, led the Junior Historian Club, and was a driver education instructor.
“He taught everyone in Warwick how to drive,” chuckles his wife, Mary Lou.
Vito smiles, but the pride in his decades of service and dedication are subjects he takes quite seriously.
“Life lessons are learned in sports. Through coaching, I was able to teach kids to obey rules, be good citizens and good students, and have sportsmanship – all traits that are important in sports and in life,” said Vito, a Warwick resident since 1965.
With a lengthy and impressive resume, it’s hard to keep up with the athletic anecdotes and accolades.
To date, Vito has coached WVHS varsity football from 1955 to 1975, was “Coach of the Year” in the Middletown Record and Newburgh News, and received the NYS Coaches Association Honor Award in 1984. He was honored by Board #180 IAABO for 40 years of service and the Warwick Booster Club in 1975 after 20 years of service.
Vito retired from the educational system in 1984, yet he is regularly reminded of the positive affect he had on young people.
From Florida, NY, to the beaches of Florida State, former students have recognized their old friend and mentor, thanking him for being their “best and favorite teacher.”
Vito somehow balances gratitude and humility when he meets his old friends and fans saying, “Hard work really always pays off and just reaffirms that what you did was right and acceptable.”
The tough yet fair coach fondly remembers how he “loved being with the kids and trying to improve their skills. I got along well with all of them, though they knew they couldn’t fool around too much with me in charge. They knew I meant what I said,” he grins, while also recalling some of the job’s challenges.
“The hardest thing was not playing everyone. I admired all the players, but I really admired the guys who put in the same effort, the same time, the same practice, and then sat on the bench,” he recalls.
Though he misses those youngsters, Vito now enjoys time with his own children and grandchildren and especially his wife Mary Lou. The couple split their time between homes in Warwick and Roscoe, NY. The two, who are both widowed, met at Edy Farms Resort on the Delaware River when Vito asked Mary Lou to dance.
“I did say yes. Well, you know, he is a very good dancer,” she gleams. The lovebirds married in 2002. Between them, they have five children and five grandchildren.
“He is really such a good man, and I am truly blessed that we met each other. I feel so very proud of his accomplishments,” Mary Lou says lovingly, as she reminds her husband of a particularly proud moment on a recent trip to Washington D.C.
While strolling the monuments, Vito, who was wearing his USS Bataan hat, was approached by a Pilipino man. The stranger saw his hat and immediately hugged and thanked Vito for his military service. Both men cried.
“It was so touching and really a nice experience to know that what we did had a powerful effect,” said Vito, still an active outdoorsman, who also enjoys fishing trips to Canada a couple of times a year.
When they’re not traveling, a typical morning finds Vito and his bride exercising regularly, whether it’s walking around town or playing golf at the Warwick Country Club.
A former usher for 40 years at St. Stephen’s Church and a member of the Warwick Knights of Columbus and VFW, Vito also enjoys watching sports on TV.
Pondering a life filled with hard work, Vito simply concludes, “I went to work happy every day. Every job I had I enjoyed. I love people, and I was helping society, which is the most important thing we can do.”