Community Voices
Open image in lightbox
Joe Marino (l) and Joe Mardesich (r).

The passing of Joe Marino and Joe Mardesich within weeks of each other in February was a double gut punch to the thousands whose lives they impacted during their long tenures with L.A. Unified and beyond.

Marino, who died February 8 at age 95, was robbed of his last few years by dementia, but his role as San Pedro’s elder statesman had been cemented well before that. A born leader, he was a teacher, principal, and college lecturer for over 35 years, a member of many community organizations, and a speaker at civic events well into his 90s.

Joe Marino.

His command of the English language was all the more impressive considering Italian was his mother tongue while growing up in Rockford, Illinois, where he was born in 1927. His family migrated to San Pedro in 1941, and he graduated from San Pedro High in summer of 1945. He served two years in the Navy and in 1949 was a member of the first class at Harbor College, where he was elected student body vice president as a freshman and then student body president as a sophomore. He went on to get his B.A. and teaching credential from Long Beach State and received a master’s from USC.

Marino began his teaching career at Leland Street Elementary and also taught at Crestwood and White Point before beginning his administrative career at Gulf Avenue in Wilmington in 1962.

He returned to Leland Street as principal for two years in the ‘70s and, while at 156th Street in Gardena in 1985, was named one of LAUSD’s six Principals of the Year (out of more than 600 nominated).

Among his many non-academic honors, he was San Pedro’s Citizen of the Year in 1988, named a Legend of San Pedro in 2013, was honorary mayor, and was inducted into the Harbor College Athletic Hall of Fame for Lifetime Achievement.

Serving others came naturally to Marino. He was president of the San Pedro Centennial Committee in 1988, a member of the San Pedro Sportswalk Committee, a member of the Harbor College Athletic Hall of Fame Committee, announced the annual San Pedro Christmas parade, and was a member of the Pirate Boosters, Toastmasters, Pessimist’s Club, Elks Lodge 966, Mater Dolorosa Retreat House, Dalmatian-American Club, and Mary Star of the Sea High School Building Committee.

While the diminutive Marino stood tall on stage using his well-honed verbal skills, Mardesich stood tall in a different arena — athletics. Born in 1935 in San Pedro, Mardesich’s first love was baseball, but at San Pedro High, he starred in basketball. He started as a junior guard on the 1951-52 team that won the school’s first-ever City championship and was second-team all-league as a senior when the Pirates won their second straight league title. 

Joe Mardesich.

He received a basketball scholarship to Pepperdine and completed his bachelor’s degree at Long Beach State in 1958. He actually began his teaching career before graduating, working at Torrance’s Meadow Parks for a year and a half with an emergency credential. He taught at his alma mater Dana Junior High for seven years and then, in 1965, returned to San Pedro High, where he spent the next 29 years teaching economics, government, history, ESL, and English. He retired in 1994, when he and his wife, Mary Ann, moved to Utah, where their sons lived. That didn’t keep him from returning to San Pedro High as a substitute teacher over the next 13 years.

After more than a half-century in the classroom, having taught multiple generations of San Pedrans, Mardesich retired for good in 2008. He later survived lymphoma and was on hand for the induction of the 1952 basketball team into the San Pedro High Athletic Hall of Fame in 2014. He later survived a heart attack that eventually led to his death on February 24 at 87.

I knew Marino from our years together on the Harbor College HOF Committee; he was the quintessential scholar and gentleman. I was a student at San Pedro High just four years after Mardesich arrived but never had him as a teacher, but posts on Facebook after his passing show he was well-liked by former students and respected by all who knew him.

I think a posting on the San Pedro Born and Raised Facebook group earlier this year by Joe Gasperov, weeks before Marino died, says a lot about both of the late educators. Gasperov downloaded a page from his 1954 Leland Street Elementary autograph book signed “Sincerely, Mr. J. Marino”:


“I want you to keep on being a good person. Life is wonderful if we always smile!! You are one of the best boys that I have known, and I want to be able to always see you on the street and say — ‘there goes a good Joe.’”

Marino and Mardesich, each in their own way, were giants of their generation. San Pedro is a lesser place without them. spt

photo of san pedro today author Steve Marconi

Steve Marconi

San Pedro native Steve Marconi began writing about his hometown after graduating from high school in 1969. After a career as a sportswriter, he was a copy editor and columnist for the News-Pilot and Daily Breeze for 20 years before joining the L.A. Times. He has been writing monthly for San Pedro magazines since 2005, and in 2018 became a registered longshoreman. Marconi can be reached at