Vice President Biden Visits Bellevue Elementary School
Vice President Joe Biden makes a stop at Bellevue Elementary School, where his first wife once taught, to meet with students, many of whom had written letters to the White House urging him to visit. Video by Steven J. Pallone (15:13)
BIDEN'S TIES TO CNY ARE BITTERSWEET | Sean Kirst, Post-Standard columnist
Six years ago, columnist Sean Kirst interviewed then-Sen. Joe Biden, who reflected on his deep personal ties with Central New York -- and explained why, following the Sept. 11 attacks, he had started to speak publicly of the family tragedy intertwined with his memories of this region.
The young man was a student at the Syracuse University College of Law. He and his wife lived on Stinard Avenue in Syracuse, where they were neighbors to Joanne Del Vecchio and her parents. The young man, a newlywed, took notice when Joanne's German shepherd gave birth to some puppies.
One day (in 1967), the young man knocked on Joanne's door. He explained how his wife, a teacher at the Bellevue Elementary School, loved to watch the puppies play. He wanted to buy one. He wanted to surprise his wife when she got home from work.
Del Vecchio, now a (retired) Spanish teacher at Fowler High School, sold a puppy to the law student, whose name was Joseph Biden.
He and his wife named the dog "Senator," which makes them seem almost prophetic.
Biden's political career took off after three years in Syracuse. He was married to the former Neilia Hunter, an Auburn native and an SU homecoming queen. Biden speaks of that time as "magical," even if he pays for those memories with pain.
He was in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 18, 1972, only weeks after his election to the U.S. Senate, when Neilia's station wagon was broadsided by a tractor-trailer as she drove home with a family Christmas tree. It happened in Delaware, where the Bidens moved after Joe graduated from law school. Biden's wife and their 18-month-old daughter, Naomi, died. His two young sons survived, despite injuries.
"Sometimes it just overwhelms me," Biden said last week, a few days after he gave the commencement address at the SU College of Law. "When you get (to Syracuse), it's almost impossible not to feel it."
For many years, Biden rarely mentioned Neilia's death in public. He married again, and his second wife, Jill, raised his two boys as her own. Few beyond Biden's immediate staff understood why he never worked on Dec. 18.
Yet he has spoken of Neilia and Naomi -- nicknamed "Amy" -- several times since Sept. 11, mainly to demonstrate empathy for thousands of Americans still grieving over the terrorist attacks.
"You get tested in ways that you never expect to get tested," Biden said.
His link to Syracuse began in 1964. Biden, a student at the University of Delaware, scraped together enough money to join some friends on spring break in the Bahamas. He introduced himself to Neilia, whose good looks stopped him cold in a hotel lobby. "I never met anyone who didn't like Neilia," Biden said.
He described her as an "incredible person," a striking woman whose kindness matched her physical beauty. Biden fell in love. He intended to enroll in the Cornell Law School, at least until the day he drove to Syracuse after a visit to Cornell, planning to meet Neilia. She left a note for him, stuck to her car in the Bellevue parking lot. She was running late. She suggested he kill time by looking at SU's law school.
He did. He liked it. He applied and was accepted.
Joe and Neilia, married in 1966, settled at 608 Stinard Ave. They were completely broke, Biden recalls, and completely happy. As a wedding gift, Biden's father -- a car dealer -- traded in their used cars and replaced them with a brand-new Corvette. Biden remembers how he and Neilia would sit in their kitchen, eating cereal for dinner, laughing about this exotic car just outside their door.
Biden walked the dog at the Woodland Reservoir. He played football in the street with neighborhood children. Neilia lived close enough to Bellevue for an easy walk to work.
The link to Syracuse was reinforced, years after Neilia's death, by Biden's political crisis of 1987. His presidential campaign was damaged by allegations that Biden stole passages for some of his speeches. Someone then leaked an old school paper from SU, in which Biden failed to footnote sections taken directly from an article. A rising presidential hopeful became the butt of jokes.
Amid the uproar, SU invited Biden for a visit. Biden said he won't forget that show of loyalty. Many of his old professors showed up to shake his hand. Biden's son Beau came along for that trip. Father and son took a walk on campus, winding up at the Kappa Alpha Theta sorority house on Walnut Avenue, the sorority to which Neilia Biden once belonged.
Beau discovered a photograph of his mother, as homecoming queen, hanging on a wall. Biden watched as his boy reached out and touched the photo. Then Beau said out loud, "I'm going to law school here."
In 1994, Biden was commencement speaker when Beau earned his degree.
Biden describes Syracuse as a city where he often surprises himself with the places he spontaneously visits, or the things he freely says. Joanne Del Vecchio can offer an example:
One afternoon in the 1970s, long after Biden became a senator, Joanne's mother was startled to find Biden standing at her door. He happened to be in Syracuse, he said. He decided to make a side trip to Stinard Avenue, hoping to find at least one familiar face.
Or maybe, more precisely, to hang onto one.
Source: Syracuse Post-Standard (1 | 2)