RBR senior Jeffrey Villapiano of Little Silver is pictured at the Mount Calvary Cemetery the site of his Eagle Scout project. With the assistance of his volunteers, Jeffrey unearthed the hidden gravestones of Italian American victims who died during the great pandemic of the early 20th century.
Press release from Red Bank Regional High School
Red Bank Regional senior Jeffrey Villapiano, a Little Silver resident and member of Boy Scout Troop 126, recently achieved scouting’s highest honor of Eagle Scout. The idea for his Eagle Scout project germinated when he accompanied his father Gavino Villapiano to Mount Calvary Cemetery in Neptune, armed with metal detectors and trash pickers.
The Villapiano men were there on a mission to identify and recover the grave marker of a long-dead relative — Jeff’s great aunt Michelina Villapiano, who died at the age of two in the influenza pandemic of the early 20th century.
“My dad had heard that sometimes the graves were just marked by a lead pipe, as the families could not afford head stones,” explains Jeffrey. “At most, a small metal plaque would mark their identity.”
The Mount Calvary burial ground was used by many Italian American families during those years; a time before regular maintenance was performed on gravesites, and before the names of the interred were even recorded as a rule. Following an afternoon of scouring an old and overgrown section of the cemetery, they discovered the small stone of the child who passed away in 1917, during the onset of the so-called Spanish Flu that infected half a billion people across the world. Father and son lovingly repositioned her stone to see the sun again — and an idea occurred to Jeffrey.