Clarence John Lontos (“John”) of Lantana, Fla., formerly of Newton, N.J., passed away peacefully Sunday morning, April 25, 2021, with his family by his side.
Born in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., in 1930, John accomplished much and positively influenced countless students, friends and family over his 91 years.
His early years were not easy, however, having been born and raised during the Great Depression and losing his father when he was four. John, his two brothers and four sisters were raised by their mother, Caroline, and as children sought out whatever odd jobs were available. Despite having very little, he frequently reminisced of adventures with his best friend, Eddy McCarthy, riding the subway barefoot and in bathing suits to swim at Coney Island, dodging the occasional car while playing stick ball in the street, and sitting on apartment steps just talking. He landed his first official job at age 16 as a messenger boy on Wall Street, but this was short-lived as he was let go for not having appropriate attire (most of his clothes were hand-me-downs).
Seeking something better, John joined the Army three days after turning 17 and began a decorated career, first as a non-commissioned officer and eventually retiring as a Major after 21 years. After basic training, John was assigned to the elite Army Security Agency (ASA) whose motto was “In God We Trust, All Others We Monitor.” He spent much of his ASA career as a Human Intelligence (HUMINT) and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) officer in post-WWII Berlin Germany, Austria, and Italy, including assignments with the CIA, NSA and Counter-Intelligence Corp, and command assignments at Vint Hill Farms Station in Warrenton, VA, Arlington Hall Station in Arlington, VA, and Fort Devens, MA. In his later years, he would share stories of sitting in on the Nuremberg trials, visiting Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest not long after the end of WWII, running agents in East Berlin, interrogating East German defectors, and skiing the Alps in the winter uniforms of former German soldiers. His time in Germany also yielded special family memories such as learning to ski, Fasching festivals, and camping (with a ridiculously large and complex tent).
Being fluent in German, he began a second impactful career as a German teacher when he was hired by Newton High School in 1967 to implement a German language program. Over his 24 years there he chaired the Foreign Language department, led the Newton Teachers Association, performed as a student council advisor, received the New Jersey Governor’s Teacher of the Year Award, was named Newton High School Teacher of the Year, was named New Jersey State Student Council Advisor of the Year, received a master’s degree in education, and was inducted into the Newton High School Hall of Fame. Former students and those that knew him from Newton High School will remember his role in events such as donkey basketball and Jell-O wrestling, school dances, various school fundraisers, and numerous student-led pranks (such as an ill-advised effort to tie a goat to the flagpole at his home).
Far more important to him than any praise or recognition was his opportunity to mentor, guide, counsel, support, assist and inspire students, friends, and family in any way he could, having himself grown up without a father.
Following his second retirement he traveled frequently with his wife, Frieda, spent time with relatives at Deer Lake in Sandyston, N.J., visited his children and grandchildren often, and helped raise his grandson. Known by friends and family for his wisdom and wit, endless and terrible bad dad jokes, boundless generosity (who brings four pies to a Thanksgiving dinner?), crazy Newton gourmet club social events (something about toga parties and “RUMTOPF” punch), large family picnics and associated (painful) group picture taking, using chocolate as currency with healthcare and service providers, being one of the first (maybe only) to ride a lawn tractor from Fredon to Newton to get a part replaced, helping young students with gas money or haircuts, hating onions and mayo, lupper, going to the movies, high moral standards, and above all, kindness and sharing his happiness with all who met him.
He was preceded in death by beloved wife, Frieda; brothers, Andrew and Joe; sisters, Helen, Sally, Lola and Catherine; daughter, Diane; and parents, Kleanthis and Caroline.
John will be lovingly missed and appreciated by his daughter, Laura, and husband, Art Morrow, of Fredon, N.J.; son, Robert and daughter-in-law, Cindy Lontos, of Sarasota, Fla., and their extended family; son, John and daughter-in-law, Heather Lontos, of Manassas, Va.; granddaughters, Rachel and Sophie; grandson, Christopher Walker, currently in the U.S. Navy and stationed at Whidbey Island, Wash.; many nieces and nephews and their extended families; and the many colleagues, friends, and former students whose lives he impacted in a positive way.
Services are private and under the direction of the Smith-McCracken Funeral Home, 6Newton, N.J.
Memorial donations may be made to The Salvation Army, 4 Gary Road, Union, N.J. 07083.