Mark J. Melamed of Vineland passed away on Saturday, June 15, 2013, surrounded by family and friends, after a courageous battle with cancer. Born in Philadelphia on Nov. 26, 1956, Mark was the son of Doris (Lichtenfeld) and Alan Melamed.
Mark began his teaching career in the Camden Public Schools and Fairfield Township Schools, but it was Veterans Memorial School in Vineland where he found his home. A teacher for 31 years, Mark's lessons went far beyond the standard curriculum. He taught his students how to be better human beings, young ladies and gentlemen who developed a deep passion for their community and the world. When he retired in 2011, it was as if a part of the school retired with him, but his legacy will live on forever. The auditorium stage at Memorial was dedicated in Mark's honor just this past April. During his distinguished teaching career, he received the following honors: The 1991 Governor's Teacher of the Year Award; the 1992 Exchange Club Educator of the Year; the 1995 NJEA Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Human and Civil Rights; the 1997 Cable Television Network Teacher of the Month Award; and the 1997 Golden Apple NJ Teacher of the Year Award. He also has been featured in several NJEA Classroom Close-up documentaries as well as NJEA commercials. Mark and his students were honored by the Tanzanian government at the United Nations.
A true performer, Mark was a childhood member of The Little Theater of Vineland (now Cumberland Players), where he performed in many productions and eventually directed numerous shows. He was also involved with countless school plays, The Road Company, Beth Israel theater productions and community plays. He also founded local theater group, Players Musicale, in 1983 and traveled with the group to England, touring with two productions. As a member of AFTRA, he was an extra on several television shows, including "General Hospital," where he developed several lifelong friendships with soap opera stars.
One of the greatest accomplishments of Mark's life was undoubtedly The Gabriel Project, a humanitarian organization that he founded at Memorial School in 1990. The project began as a classroom lesson for his students and blossomed into a community service organization that positively impacted children and their families around the world. The mission of the project was to identify and assist children in need of life-saving medical treatment. Throughout the years, 17 children have benefited from the generosity of The Gabriel Project. As the founder of the Gabriel Project, Mark received numerous awards, including: Congressional Certificates of Appreciation; New Jersey General Assembly Citations of Merit; the Annual Hesed Man of the Year Award; Rotarian Service Awards; and the Charles Fisher Humanitarian Award. The project also was a finalist for the Oprah Winfrey Angel Network Charity Challenge. One of the hallmarks of the Gabriel Project was the group's mission to fundraise through the arts. Mark combined his love of theater with his passion for helping others by organizing and directing countless Gabriel Projects plays and musical productions, including a New York City performance by The Gabriel Project Singers.
The Gabriel Project was named after the first child selected to be brought to the United States from Tanzania for life-saving heat surgery. Although Gabriel Inyunye passed away from intractable heart failure before he was able to come to the United States for his surgery, this blazed the trail for future families to benefit from the altruism of the project. Mark once said, "Gabriel will always be watching over us as our guardian angel." Mark now joins Gabriel as a guardian angel for all of us.
Mark is survived by brothers, David, Kenny (Liza) and Michael; nephew, Connor; niece, Samantha; aunt and uncle, Harry and Marsha Melamed; and cousins, Sheri (Danny), Evan, Alexandra, Jacqueline (Tim), Gabrielle and Danny.
A visitation will be held on Friday evening at the DeMarco-Luisi Funeral Home 2755 S. Lincoln Ave., Vineland, from 5 to 9 p.m. and again from 9 to 11 a.m. on Saturday morning with a Celebration of Life following at 11 a.m. Burial will be private and at the convenience of the family.
Family has requested no flowers be sent, and donations can be made in Mark's memory to The Gabriel Project, 69 Windsor Drive, Dumont, NJ 07628; or the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, 262 Danny Thomas Place, Memphis, TN, 38105. Please visit dlfuneral.com to send condolences to the family.