Though they are unlikely to say so themselves, there are few people at Wheeler who have affected the school’s functioning more than Jerry DelSignore and Gary Esposito. The pair has been central to Wheeler’s behind-the-scenes management for nearly 80 years combined. They’ve spent much of that time working directly together, and so it seems fitting that they will each transition at Wheeler (DelSignore into retirement and Esposito into a part-time capacity) at the end of this school year.
But before we look ahead, let’s look back to 1978 when Jerry DelSignore started at Wheeler as a groundskeeper and custodian. It was the first of several positions he would hold at the school. Given his background in carpentry, he was able to fill in as Wheeler’s carpenter when the previous carpenter retired. “A year later I began classes to get a boiler operator’s certificate, then continued on to get a stationary engineer’s license and followed up with an oil burner technician’s license in the states of Rhode Island and Massachusetts,” he says. DelSignore went on to become Wheeler’s boiler operator while continuing his technical education in many different trades. When the school’s plant manager left in 1988, he applied for the role, and Esposito, who was Wheeler’s business manager at the time, gave him the opportunity to serve as acting plant manager for a year to see how he would do. “After the year was up I took over as the plant manager and have remained in that position right through today,” DelSignore says.
Esposito, meanwhile, arrived at Wheeler in 1986 after working in municipal government, most recently as director of finance and operations for the City of Newport. “I was exploring job opportunities and accepted an invitation to interview at Wheeler,” he remembers. “After meeting with the administration and learning about Wheeler, my wife and I couldn’t think of a better school for our children, and the job presented a professional challenge for me.”
In the three decades since then, Esposito became director of operations and met various challenges, and realized many opportunities, by partnering with a multifaceted team at the school. “I worked with people who, like me, had visions and goals for Wheeler, and it was my role to provide financial, planning, design, and implementation advice and support to see that those visions came to fruition,” he says. “It’s been an enormous pleasure to work with so many people who care about the school as much as I do, who work to make sure it continues to adapt to meet the educational needs of future generations of students.”
DelSignore, with a great deal of modesty, agrees. “I have loved playing a small part in support of education for the Wheeler students,” he says. One of those students, in particular, stands out as he looks back on the last 43 years. “There have been so many wonderful experiences at Wheeler, but I will say that watching my son graduate is right up there with my favorites.”
Esposito describes Commencement as his favorite Wheeler experience as well. “It’s the time when I realize that my support of faculty and administration contributes in a small way to prepare Wheeler students for the next chapter of their lives.”
Esposito and DelSignore are currently planning for their own next chapters this summer. Esposito will transition from his full-time position into a part-time role working mostly on projects at Wheeler Farm, while DelSignore will retire at the end of June. In her announcement about them to faculty and staff, Head of School Allison Gaines Pell said, “we should acknowledge the daily and profound impact they have had on life at Wheeler—everything from the beauty of the campus, to the many visions Wheeler has had that have been made real, to the safety we feel every day.
“Both have cultivated talented, experienced, and Wheeler-loyal teams, people who have come to and stayed at Wheeler because of the capacity they see and develop in other people,” she continued. “We all owe them a debt of gratitude for the position we currently enjoy and for the love, care, and concern they have poured into The Wheeler School for decades.”
For DelSignore and Esposito, those feelings of love and care for the community are mutual. “I’ll miss the people in the Offices of Business, Operations, and Auxiliary who have always been there for me with their loyalty, advice, and expertise to make me look good,” Esposito says, while DelSignore, “will miss my friends on the Maintenance and Custodial teams and this job that I love, most of the time! I will feel forever grateful to my colleagues, especially the past Head of School Bill Prescott and Director of Operations Gary Esposito for believing in me early on in my career.”
When it comes to those who will come to Wheeler to fill the roles they are leaving, DelSignore and Esposito offer the following advice: They should be dedicated, “treating Wheeler as your own property,” DelSignore says, “and supporting both the Maintenance and Custodial Departments will help in your success.” Esposito encourages them “to be respectful of those who have been laboring here for years, seek their advice, teach them, and partner with them to always make things better.”
We appreciate Gary Esposito and Jerry DelSignore for doing so much themselves to make Wheeler better during their long and meaningful time at the school.