A beloved Bensonhurst icon returned to the elementary school she graduated from 80 years ago and received a surprise that shocked her, delighted her and moved her to tears.
School officials announced that they were naming the auditorium after her.
Mafalda DiMango came to P.S. 204 at 8101 15th Ave. on June 1 and sat through nearly an entire assembly under the belief that she there to be honored as Principal for a Day.
School officials had lured her there under the pretext of bestowing the honorary title on her. It wasn’t until Principal Nancy Tomasuolo made the big announcement that DiMango realized the auditorium was being named for her.
“I’m overwhelmed,” said DiMango, who attended P.S. 204 from 1931 to 1938. “This is a proud, emotional moment for me.”
DiMango, 92, came to P.S. 204 accompanied by her husband of 68 years, Dr. Anthony DiMango, and their daughters, Hon. Patricia DiMango, a former New York State Supreme Court justice and star of the CBS reality show “Hot Bench,” and Joanne DiMango-Orr, a retired educator.
“When I think about everything she’s done for the school and for the neighborhood, it’s really amazing,” Patricia DiMango said.
Mafalda DiMango has a history of service to P.S. 204 and to School District 20 that dates back more than 50 years.
She was born in Salerno, Italy on Oct. 21, 1926 and moved to the U.S. as a small child with her parents. She is a graduate of P.S. 204, New Utrecht High School and Brooklyn College.
DiMango served as Parent-Teacher Association president at P.S. 204 from 1963 to 1965, and was PTA president of Dyker Heights Junior High School 1965 to 1967.
In the mid-1960s, she was appointed to Community School Board 20. At the time, school boards wielded enormous power, including the power to hire and fire superintendents.
After New York State changed the education law in 1969 to mandate that school board members be elected, DiMango ran for a seat on the school board and won.
Meanwhile, DiMango’s fame was spreading beyond Brooklyn. In 1970, she and her daughters were featured in a full-page ad for Maytag appliances in Life Magazine.
DiMango won re-election every three years until the system was changed again in 2002 and local boards were renamed community education councils. Membership was then restricted to parents with children in school and people appointed by borough presidents.
DiMango was appointed to the new Community Education Council of School District 20 by then-borough president Marty Markowitz. She served for more than a decade.
She still holds the record for being the longest serving school board/community education council member in New York.
DiMango’s work has also been recognized outside of the education community. In 1978, she received the Bay Ridge Community Council Civic Award. And in 1980, she was named by then-Congressmember Leo Zefferetti as the assistant manager of the Brooklyn office of the U.S. Census.
In recent years, DiMango successfully fought to get the city to install a traffic light at 15th Avenue and 82nd Street outside P.S. 204.
But it is DiMango’s warm, gentle manner and her common-sense advice that makes her a role model, according to Tomasuolo.
Tomasuolo noted that DiMango attends the school’s graduation ceremony every year and always imparts the same advice to students: “Respect your parents, respect your teachers and respect yourself.”
The phrase is painted over the doorway to the auditorium.
Tomasuolo recalled meeting DiMango for the first time and the strong impression it made on her. It was June of 2003, when Tomasuolo was an assistant principal at P.S. 204 and DiMango was attending the graduation. “I was very nervous. She gave me kind words, encouraging words. We chatted over lunch. I immediately saw what kind of a person she is,” Tomasuolo said.
When Tomasuolo spoke to other people in District 20 about DiMango, they shared stories about her kindness. “One time Mafalda helped me with…” was a common conversation starter.
District 20 Superintendent Karina Costantino said DiMango is a role model on how to be “a good decent person.”
Several of DiMango’s former school board and community education council colleagues attended the ceremony, including Carlo Scissura, Charles Capetanakis, Laurie Windsor and Mark Bramante.
The tribute included a performance by the P.S. 204 Chorus. Under the direction of Giuliana Sarullo, the children sang John Legend’s “If You’re Out There” and “The Impossible Dream,” from the musical “Man a la Mancha.”
The ceremony gave DiMango a chance to reflect on her life. The years pass quickly, she said. “I can still see in my mind’s eye my mother holding my hand to register me for school. It seems like yesterday,” she said.