Obituary of Gerard Forlenza
Gerard Anthony Forlenza, 100, passed away peacefully on 17 July 2023 after a brief illness, his children at his side. The second of six siblings, Jerry was born in a cold-water, walk-up apartment in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in 1923 to Vincenzo Forlenza and Caterina (Claps), who emigrated from the Basilicata region of Southern Italy in 1917.
Leaving Brooklyn at age six, Jerry was raised in then rural New Hyde Park, Long Island, NY. He described the open countryside, dirt roads, and small farms of New Hyde Park in the 1930s as idyllic, often going summers without shoes and feasting on wild blackberries from the fields on his walk to school. Sometimes, he and a friend would camp overnight in the open fields with the comforts of home nearby. He recalled swimming in the sand pits excavated for aggregate for his father’s construction business. In the summer, his father would buy crates of grapes to press and make into wine in the basement.
Still, his family suffered the effects of the Great Depression. Jerry recalled not having a shirt to wear to school and having to go to class in an overcoat with nothing underneath. His mother often had to make the children’s clothing from discarded cloth cement sacks from the construction business. He called this period “dehumanizing” for Americans, as the jobless and homeless often passed through the area seeking help. His mother always gave the less fortunate something to eat.
Jerry was an outstanding student and skipped a grade in high school due to high academic achievement. He enrolled in Columbia College in 1940, where he was a letterman on the wrestling team in the 128- and 135-pound weight classes. He wrestled for three years and was an AAU champion. After the attack on Pearl Harbor, in December 1941, and America’s entry into World War II, Jerry was accelerated to graduate with the class of 1943; he earned a BS in chemical engineering.
After trying unsuccessfully to join the Navy, Jerry joined the Army and moved through a number of stateside locations during training, including Camp Upton in Yaphank, NY; Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri; and Fort Belvoir, Virginia for officer’s training school. As a lieutenant in the Army with the corps of engineers, he was sent to the West Coast by train for deployment. He recalled the train making a late-night stop in North Platte, Nebraska, where the citizens turned out with cake, coffee, and sandwiches for the troops in what later became known as the “North Platte Canteen.” Jerry was touched by the residents’ generosity toward total strangers.
After time at Camp Stoneman and Camp Beale in California, Jerry was deployed to New Guinea in the South Pacific. A series of assignments took him to Morotai, Indonesia and to Leyte and Luzon in the Philippines. There, the troops had been preparing for the invasion of Japan when the war ended, in August 1945, after the use of the atomic bombs. He recalled receiving the news of the end of the war with great relief.
After the war, Jerry left the Army as a captain and returned to Columbia to earn a master’s degree (ChE) in chemical engineering in 1947. While there, he met Grace Eleanor Caskin from Danvers, MA. Grace was studying history at Columbia and earned her master’s degree in 1947. They met at an event at the Newman Club where Grace was pretending to smoke and then knocked an ashtray off the arm of the chair to the floor. Jerry and Grace married in 1950.
Jerry enjoyed a successful career as an executive in chemical engineering, starting in 1947 with Chemico, a world-wide engineering firm in New York City. In 1950, during the Korean conflict, the Army recalled him to duty, but Jerry received several temporary deferments, and finally a permanent deferment, due to his work as an engineer on a project for the Atomic Energy Commission.
Jerry and Grace moved to Manhasset on New York’s Long Island in 1956. There they started their family of five children: Gerard (Jerry) Jr., Michael, Francis, Grace, and Catherine (Kate).
The family relocated to Montclair, NJ in 1963. For the ensuing 56 years the Llewellyn Road home was the site for most family gatherings, large summer pool parties, holiday open houses, joyous fêtes marking important family events, and a favorite neighborhood gathering place for school friends. No one ever left hungry.
Jerry worked at American Cyanamid for 30 years, becoming the president of several divisions including the Industrial Chemicals Division and the Organic Chemicals Division. Later, he was named President of Beker Industries in Connecticut. Subsequently, he was a joint founder of Relectronics, a joint venture with Siemens AG of Germany, and was involved in numerous other projects. He provided professional and engineering consulting through his corporation, Forge, LLC. The Forge name uses the first three letters of “Forlenza” and the initials of his wife Grace Eleanor. Jerry served on the board of directors of Adhesives Technology, Inc. in New Hampshire for many years.
Active for many years with Columbia organizations of both the college and engineering school, Jerry was a founding member of the North New Jersey Columbia alumni association. Several of the first meetings were held in his living room in Montclair. He served for many years on the Engineering Dean’s Council and chaired some fund drives for both the college and the engineering school.
Jerry and Grace were avid travelers, both domestically and overseas, making near annual visits to Europe and enjoying numerous Elderhostel trips. They shared a particular fondness for Ireland and Italy developed over numerous sojourns. At the age of 90, Jerry delighted in a family trip to Donegal, Ireland, revisiting many of the inns, restaurants, and locations that he and Grace had cherished.
Jerry was a life-long aficionado of the opera. He and Grace regularly attended the New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. His favorite recordings could be heard playing throughout the house. His particular favorites were Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Delibes’s Lakme.
In the 1950s, Jerry and Grace visited the nearly empty Outer Banks of North Carolina on a road trip in the late fall, having been intrigued by a friend’s honeymoon in Nags Head -- particularly by the name. Two ferry rides were required to reach the windswept shoreline, where the Carolinian Hotel (now gone) was the only lodging available. They were enchanted by the seascape and returned many times over the years with their family.
During one visit in 1978, they purchased a seaside lot in Southern Shores for $9,000. It was not until 2003 that Jerry built a house on the lot for his wife in the old cedar shingle style prized on the Outer Banks. The covered, wrap-around deck is a cherished feature to catch the morning and afternoon sea breezes, and from which to watch the long sunsets. They named their getaway home “Gray Seas” in a tribute to his wife Grace (or Gracie). Jerry and Grace enjoyed long summers there with numerous visits from each of their children with their families and many friends. He was often found enjoying quiet mornings on the deck, consuming gigantic mugs of watery instant coffee, reading, solving crossword puzzles, and napping with a radio, tuned to NPR, perched on his chest.
Jerry took up tennis late in life and developed an unorthodox style of play by hitting a constant barrage of drop shots and chop shots that greatly agitated his opponents. On the Outer Banks, he was known as “the guy who hits the ball funny.” He kept up his tennis game into his 90s, finally succumbing to achy knees.
He remained active reading, consulting, and rendering his opinion on a wide variety of subjects from politics to science and weather to history. He was the organizer (“the prime agitator,” as he termed it) at weekly lunch gatherings in both North Carolina and New Jersey.
In his later years he became a master communicator. Adapting to email, Facebook, iPads, and smart phones, he became the nexus of a large network of family and friends, often making more than 15 FaceTime calls per day. He had an amazing memory for personal details, earnestly inquiring about the well-being of each person’s extended families and offering sincere well wishes on birthdays, anniversaries, and graduations. He could recall long-ago acquaintances and the schoolmates of his children and their families. His communications included regular calls, in Italian, with his cousins and other relatives in Italy.
Known for his impromptu quizzes, Jerry would often query newcomers in their areas of expertise. His breadth of knowledge was encyclopedic, and lines of inquiry might involve the surface temperature of the sun, the nature of entropy, proper stock market valuations, Supreme Court decisions, the history of the Roman Empire, or the significance of the standard atomic model. He enjoyed tinkering with scientific gadgets such as microscopes, Stirling heat engines, crystal radio sets, photographic equipment, and steam engines.
Although Jerry’s mobility declined in his last years, his curiosity, intellect, memory, and challenging quizzes and puzzles never waned. He remained philosophical and kept his spirits up during the sad times of the epidemic lockdowns, even surviving his own case of Covid. He played
poker weekly and chess on-line with opponents world-wide, winning both regularly, by his account.
In March 2023, Jerry basked in the well wishes of more than 50 family members and friends for his gala 100th birthday celebration at his daughter and son-in-law’s home in Glen Rock, NJ. Clearly delighting in the attention, he shared recollections of his past and his hopes for the future.
He saw much in his life: the immigrant’s experience; the depths of despair during the Great Depression; the struggles of world war; the prosperity, optimism, and growth of the post-war years; professional success; raising a large family; and establishing comfortable homes. Always eager to share his knowledge or experience, he mentored, guided, and assisted innumerable people in his life, and he never turned down anyone who asked for help. The greatest generation indeed.
He lost his beloved wife Grace in 2008 after 58 years of marriage, as well as his dear sisters Joan and Laura and his cherished brother Nicholas (Nick). He is survived by two sisters, Grace and Anne of Long Island, NY; his five children, Jerry Jr. (Linda), Michael (Karen), Francis, Grace (Stephen), and Kate (Noah); five grandchildren (Michael, Anthony, Matthew, Eric, and Ryan); and numerous nieces, nephews, grandnieces, and grandnephews.
If desired, friends and family can make memorial donations to Soaring Eagle Heritage Living Center in Billings, Montana (https://soaringeagle.org).
The family wishes to express its gratitude and deep, heartfelt thanks to the wonderful caregivers at CareOne at the Cupola in Paramus, NJ.
A private interment for immediate family is to be followed by a gathering on Saturday, 29 July 2023 from 1:00 - 4:00 pm at the Glen Rock Inn, 222 Rock Road in Glen Rock, NJ. All who knew and loved Jerry are most welcome to come and join us in celebrating a life well lived.
The weight of this sad time we must obey, Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say. The oldest hath borne most; we that are young Shall never see so much nor live so long. – King LearTo plant a beautiful memorial tree in memory of Gerard Forlenza, please visit our Tree Store