Thomas Karolyi was a trendsetting orchestra teacher and director and a remarkable musician in his own right. One of J. Taylor Finley Junior High School’s founding faculty members in 1965, he instructed, encouraged and guided thousands of musicians during his storied career.
Mr. Karolyi passed away in September 2018 after battling lung cancer. He was 82 years old and still performing and entertaining crowds as a musician. His family, friends, former faculty colleagues and students contributed thousands of dollars to create a scholarship in the gifted musician’s memory.
Tom Karolyi was one of the founding faculty members of J. Taylor Finley Junior High School.
The first annual $1,000 award was presented by Mr. Karolyi’s widow, Felicia in 2019 to Arielle Harvey, who has gone on to study at CUNY Queens College’s Aaron Copland School of Music. The 2020 scholarship was garnered by Julien Rentsch, who is currently studying at Northwestern University. Last year’s award went to Class of 2021 co-valedictorian Grace Wildermuth, who will soon begin her sophomore year at Vanderbilt University.
The 2022 Thomas Karolyi Memorial Scholarship was presented to University of Pennsylvania bound Cassidy Casabona by high school orchestra director James DiMeglio at this year’s senior departmental awards ceremony.
An Advanced Placement Scholar with Distinction and National Merit Commended Student, Ms. Casabona claimed membership is seven academic honor societies. President of the high school’s student government and treasurer of the Class of 2022 in each of the past four years, she also served as a Natural Helper, assisting others navigating their way through difficult periods of their life.
Ms. Casabona won awards in the National History Day contest and at the K-Factor talent show. She performed in the high school orchestra, chamber orchestra and in a quartet.
Mr. Karolyi’s 31 year Huntington UFSD teaching career was an unbridled success story. He established the chamber orchestra, the all-district orchestra concert and the intergenerational concert as well as the Tri-M Music Honor Society, which continues to thrive to this day.
Born in January 1936 in Budapest, Hungary, Mr. Karolyi first evaded the Nazi killing machine when Germany occupied Hungary, hiding with his parents in a darkened basement room for weeks at time.
He later escaped suffocating religious persecution in Hungary when the Soviet Union invaded the country in 1956 and crushed a popular rebellion. Mr. Karolyi immigrated to the US and became an American citizen, later earning undergraduate and graduate music education degrees at City University of New York-Queens College.
Mr. Karolyi began his career at Finley in September 1965 when the school first opened its doors. His deep voice and heavy Hungarian accent added to the aura that always seemed to envelope him. He had a perpetual spring in his step. He walked fast through the hallways.
As a strings teacher, orchestra director and violinist, few could match Tom Karolyi. He performed throughout his life and right up until the time of his death. His smile, quick wit and hearty laugh will always be remembered by his colleagues.
Over the years, Mr. Karolyi taught at Finley, Robert K. Toaz Junior High School and Huntington High School. He split time between Finley and the high school from 1988 until his retirement in July 1996, serving as orchestra director at both schools.
Mr. Karolyi’s file in the Huntington UFSD personnel office is packed with accolades from fellow teachers, department supervisors and principals regarding his students’ performances at concerts and special events through the years.
The veteran music teacher’s “great rapport” with his students and his ability to “bring out the best in them musically” is a constant theme that runs throughout the missives placed in Mr. Karolyi’s file.
Huntington music teachers past and present, most notably those who have worked with strings students and orchestras across the district were exceedingly saddened to hear of Mr. Karolyi’s passing. He lived in the Huntington area and regularly attended district concerts.
Mr. Karolyi helped establish the Tri-M Music Honor Society in the district and served as its faculty advisor. He spent countless hours helping students prepare for NYSSMA auditions. As vice president of the Long Island String Festival, he played a key role in the organization and in the running of its festival.
Always a consummate professional, Mr. Karolyi had a certain boyishness to his nature. It’s that perpetually young at heart teacher that Huntington UFSD will never forget.