VINELAND — The stage in the Veterans Memorial School auditorium is now named for the man who knows it very well.

That man is Mark J. Melamed, a retired school district educator who helped produce student productions on the stage for about four decades.

In the auditorium is a plaque that reads, “This stage is dedicated in honor of Mark J. Melamed for his untiring service to the students of Vineland. His love of the arts and compassion for those in need have truly helped make this world a better place.”

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Part of that compassion involves The Gabriel Project, a humanitarian organization that Melamed founded years ago to raise money to pay for life-saving surgery for children around the world.

Naming the stage in Melamed’s honor came as something of a surprise for Melamed, whose help with student productions is now somewhat hindered: He is battling cancer.

“I appreciate it,” Melamed said of the honor. “I never expected this at all.”

Melamed said he began his educational career at other district schools, but liked Veterans Memorial School the best.

“Coming to Memorial made a difference because Memorial has always been a family, and it’s always been about family for as long as I’ve been here,” Melamed said. “And even now, I’m still welcome here, and that is much appreciated.”

Sue Cicchini, a longtime friend of Melamed and a former colleague in the school district, said Melamed’s love of his craft and students was unsurpassed.

“From the moment he started doing these (all middle school) plays here, there was magic that happened,” Cicchini said. “And he made every child feel that they were special, because we all know that they are.”

Cicchini said that along with Melamed’s dedication to students in the school district, his work on the Gabriel Project makes him a great humanitarian.”

“The lives he has touched, the countless children around the world who have, because of Mark, realized that they can find a better life,” she said.

Even though cancer has slowed him down, Melamed still plans on helping out with other stage productions.

“I’m feeling good, and I’m very, very hopeful for the future,” he said. “I already have scripts at home laid out, looking for next year.”

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