A local high school principal, a longtime civil servant and a proud World War II veteran, Neal V. Musmanno journeyed through history with relish, amassing a collection of stories that enchanted his audiences.
He served as Pennsylvania's deputy secretary of education through the administrations of five governors, championing the rights of students with special needs.
He helped sink a German submarine while he was stationed on a naval destroyer during World War II.
And when he was injured and sent to Chelsea Naval Hospital, he befriended his roommate, John F. Kennedy. Even when Mr. Kennedy became President Kennedy, he affectionately called his old friend "Mussy."
Mr. Musmanno, of Stowe, died Friday of natural causes. He was 95.
"To know him was probably one of the highlights of my life," said his friend Tom Petrone, a former state representative. "I've met a lot of kings and princes and paupers and presidents, but he was a man that stood out."
Born in 1914 in Stowe, Mr. Musmanno graduated from Penn State University in 1936 and took a job as a teacher at Stowe High School, said his daughter, Patricia M. Homer of Greenville, Mercer County.
He married his high school sweetheart, Anne B. Musmanno, in 1937; the two had seven children before she died in 1990.
Mr. Musmanno joined the Navy during World War II after his students who were enlisting encouraged him to enlist, too. He was a lieutenant commander on the USS Niblack, said Ms. Homer.
When he returned from the war, he worked at the Glenn L. Martin Co., now Lockheed Martin, and soon returned to Stowe High School as its principal, she said.
He taught English and journalism to fourth- to 12th-grade students. He also served as an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh, where he created courses on school law, pioneering the field.
In 1959, he was appointed to the state Department of Education under Gov. David L. Lawrence.
During two decades of service, Mr. Musmanno worked closely with state schools for the deaf and blind in Scranton and Pittsburgh.
He launched the precursor to the Bureau of Special Education, and he was instrumental in pushing Pennsylvania to change references in state laws from "handicapped" to read "exceptional."
"Every child is a candidate for greatness," Mr. Musmanno would say, said Ms. Homer.
A devoted father, Mr. Musmanno took a special leave from the Navy to watch his eldest child start first grade.
He inspired three of his children to pursue careers in education, said Ms. Homer, who has been superintendent of the Greenville Area School District in Mercer County for 24 years.
"Anytime that there's been anything happening of significance, he was there," said Ms. Homer. "No matter what ... he would always be there."
Mr. Musmanno left the state Department of Education under Gov. Richard Thornburgh's administration, though he continued to consult for the department for years.
After Mr. Musmanno retired, Mr. Petrone often visited him to talk, he said.
He particularly remembered a story Mr. Musmanno would tell about President Kennedy, who invited him to his inauguration and asked him to dance with his wife, Jacqueline.
Mr. Musmanno declined, demurring, "I can't. I can't."
When President Kennedy asked, "What do you mean, you can't?" Mr. Musmanno replied, "I can't dance!" said Mr. Petrone.
"Every story was better than the last," said Mr. Petrone.
In addition to Ms. Homer, Mr. Musmanno is survived by his sons, Neal V. Musmanno Jr. of France, Victor H. Musmanno of Germany, James M. Musmanno of Harrisburg, Daniel G. Musmanno of New Orleans and Mark C. Musmanno of Allison Park; a daughter, Anne B. Blocksidge of McKees Rocks; 12 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.
Visitation will held at the Anthony Musmanno Funeral Home, 700 Seventh St., Stowe, today from 6 to 8 p.m. and tomorrow from 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. A Mass will be celebrated at St. John of God Parish, 1011 Church Ave., McKees Rocks, Wednesday at 11:30 a.m.
Vivian Nereim can be reached at email@example.com or 412-263-1413.