A much-loved football coach who graduated from Morristown High School and later taught at Morristown-Beard (then called Morristown Prep) before a stellar career at Boonton High School died earlier this month at the age of 83.
Joe Molitoris, known to students as "Mister Mol" or "Coach Mol," is best remembered by some for a remarkable undefeated season that led to a state football championship for Boonton in 1968. To others, he was the ultimate mentor.
Photographer Warren Westura, whose work is seen frequently on this site, among the latter group.
"He was my gym teacher in freshman and senior years," Westura said. "He was almost like an optical illusion. The guy was probably 5-foot 4-inches but you never saw that. I was pushing 6-foot by the time I was a senior and I always felt smaller than him. Part of it was that he was a Marine colonel, but he was also a remarkably inspiring sort of guy. Once you met him, you wanted to do good for him; you wanted to be a better person."
"To us he was just dad," said son Tom Molitoris. "But we're starting to find out that he meant a lot to a lot of people. The crowd at the funeral was much bigger than we expected. We've been getting cards from all kinds of people, not just football players, saying 'He made me the person that I am.' We can't believe he had this much impact on this many kids and still had time for us."
"If he was in your corner, you had a friend for life. If you needed help, he was the guy," Westura said. "When I wanted to go into the Navy, to officer candidate school, he wrote a letter to the recruiting office. Another student was trying to enlist and he'd had a little trouble with the law, so I guess they were trying to decide if he was moral enough to be accepted. They called Mr. Mol and all of a sudden the recruiter snapped to attention, saying 'Yes, sir! Yes, sir!' After he got off the phone, they told the guy, 'You're in the Corps.'"
Daughter Patricia Molitoris, now living in New Hampshire, followed her father into the Marines and retired as a lieutenant colonel.
"He was a great coach and you didn't have to be a football player to get help from him. One of his [seven] grandsons did three tours in Iraq and a tour in Afghanistan and another grandson has a master's in nursing and works in the ER at Duke Medical Center. He gave them the same advice. He said, 'Go for it!' He was so proud."
As for attending Boonton High School while her father was on staff, Patricia Molitoris said, laughing, "Oh, that was awful. I wasn't allowed to date any of the football players. They would always come to dad and ask if they could take me out on a date and my dad would always say, 'No way!'
Daughter Andrea Nafziger, of Archbold, Ohio, said she was very happy that her father lived with her for the last few months of his life.
"He was a really likable guy. He lived at my house for about eight months," Nafziger said. "I live in a small town of only 3,500 people, but he even made friends here. It's going to be tough to be without him. We had a lot of fun this summer. He was contagious."
Both daughters mentioned their gratitude for the military presence at the funeral.
"The Marines met the plane. At the funeral home, they changed the guard every half hour," Nafziger said. "It was just beautiful."
"I know of no one more honorable or decent than Joe," Westura said. "He had such regard for kids. I remember one time we were running in gym class during the winter and I was against a very athletic guy and I thought, 'I'm going to show him something.' I went all out and practically threw myself across the finish line. It was a flat-footed tie and I was sitting there gasping for air. I was really winded and Mr. Mol came over and said, 'Son I'm proud of you.' That's all. Then he just walked back into his office. I'm sure he said that to lots of others but for that one moment it meant the world to me."
Westura said he photographed several important events in his mentor's life, including his 50th wedding anniversary and a reunion with fellow Marines at Picatinny Arsenal.
"I never charged him because it would be like charging my own father," Westura said. "For one event he insisted that I take a gift check. I put it toward my son's education. In that way, he [Molitoris] will touch one more generation."