Although I had to smile at reading a blurb about the San Gennaro Festival in last Sunday’s New York Daily News, I didn’t realize there was a column here that wanted to be written. It dawned on me a couple of hours later.

I should have seen it coming though. The piece on the festival in Little Italy was in a section of the paper — meaning not the sports pages — that I typically ignore.

Enter someone shouting a big hello to me as I began my morning walk later at the Martin L. Mattei Educational Complex. “It’s Karen,” she called. “From the post office.” And I instantly remembered all the times she took care of me when sending packages to my kids.

Karen said she was waiting for three girlfriends to play tennis. “C’mon,” she added, “I’ll walk with you until they get here.”

Walking goes better when there’s someone to talk with, and the time flew as we circled the parking lot several times. Our conversation traveled all over the place, eventually landing on, in Karen’s words, “A young man in my neighborhood I see teaching his little girl tennis. His name is, uh, ....”

“Let me guess,” I jumped in. “Gennaro?”

“That’s it!” she exclaimed, looking more than a little surprised.

“He goes by Jerry?” I continued.

“Right,” she said. “His daughter is Lu. I gave her a tennis ball one day.”

I told her I had seen Gennaro and Lu (short for Luciana) on those very tennis courts just a few days earlier. What I didn’t say is her bringing up his name out of the blue affirmed two themes that frequently work their way into my writing. One is that everyone around her is connected, and two, is that there are no such things as coincidences.

Upon seeing me warmly greet a new colleague from Pittston at the college one day, an administrator, who did not grow up around here, but is learning about us fast, said, “I’m convinced everyone from Greater Pittston knows each other.”

I gave her my stock response, which goes something like this. You know that theory about six degrees of separation? That everyone in America is only six acquaintances away from knowing everyone else? Well, in Greater Pittston, it’s only a degree-and-a-half. Give us six, and we’re related.

Then there’s the coincidence thing. My son, who’s always trying to bring me back down to earth, tells me coincidences are just coincidences. But I ascribe to the notion that they are God’s way of talking to us.

So, when Karen brings up Gennaro, after I had just read the word Gennaro in the paper, after I had just seen Gennaro on the tennis court, I cannot help but step back and contemplate what might be going on. Especially since there’s even more to this Gennaro thing. It goes back to the Fourth of July.

My wife and I went to Wilkes-Barre that morning to cheer on our niece Alicia, who, as always, was running in the annual YMCA Bernie Hargadon Memorial Run. And who did we bump into? Gennaro, pushing 4-year-old Lu and her 2-year-old brother Mateo in a double stroller. His wife, and their mom, Erykah, was running the 5-K.

In case you aren’t keeping track, that’s four Gennaros in 15 days. Coincidence? I think not.

Gennaro, by the way, is Gennaro Zangardi. I know him since he was a kid playing baseball, and I know his parents, Alfonso (Al) and Barbara (Stella) Zangardi since before they were married. I also know his sister Maria and brother Al.

Gennaro recently became an administrator in the Pittston Area School District, but before that, he was a teacher.

One semester, I taught a college public speaking class right at Pittston Area and it turned out to be in “Mr. Zangardi’s” classroom. I learned firsthand how much his students love him. I was not surprised.

Since the class met right after the school day ended, I always brought a container of candy — typically, Swedish fish, peanut butter cups, and assorted mini candy bars — to give the kids a little boost.

When class ended, a few of the students would take the leftover candy and spell something with it on “Mr. Z’s” desk. Messages like, “Hi, Mr. Z,” or even “We love you.”

Here’s one more coincidence. I called Gennaro’s dad to ask if he thought his son would mind me writing about him. “

Actually,” Al said, “I think he’d be honored.”

When I told him about seeing Gennaro at the Bernie Hargadon run, Al said he and Bernie’s daughter Sara (Michaels) once worked together in the county probation office.

What does all this mean?

I’m not sure. But I suspect I haven’t seen the last of Gennaro Zangardi this summer.

Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at

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