In Memoriam: Friends, family remember Dan Giletta

Kelsey Ruane

A single college semester crystallizes out of innumerable impressions — constant, fleeting perceptions of people and experiences that come and go.

But some of those impressions burn with a greater intensity than do others.

Friends of Dan Giletta, the senior engineering major killed in a hit-and-run car accident at the end of September, consistently use the same handful of words and phrases to describe him, which is evidence of the powerful impression that he left on them in only a few short years.

“Everybody feels the same way about Dan,” said junior Karen Choi, a close friend of Giletta’s. “He was funny, honest, and he loved to have a good time.”

“He was really selfless,” said sophomore Spencer Gobar, who became close with Giletta around St. Patrick’s Day last year. “It was just natural to him.”

His father, Bernie Giletta, didn’t quite know the extent of the social life that his son had here, and the outpouring of adoration for his son since his death has amazed him.

“It’s like he was living a double life because he never really spoke too much about school,” Bernie Giletta said.

Even from a young age, Dan Giletta didn’t need much to have a good time.

“He never really wanted a lot of stuff,” Bernie Giletta said of his son growing up. “He just liked to have fun.”

Born April 26, 1989, Dan Giletta attended St. Elizabeth’s School in Wyckoff, N.J. and later attended Bergen Catholic High School. He played on Wyckoff’s traveling baseball team as a left-handed pitcher for a few years in his early teens.

“He was always that good kid who got along with everyone,” said senior Jeff Yerger, who was close with Giletta at St. Elizabeth’s. “He was the one you loved to make you laugh.”

Dan Giletta was also the godfather of one of his half-brother’s twin daughters.

“We had a really nice relationship,” said Bernie Giletta, who gave the eulogy at his son’s funeral. “He knew how we felt about him.”

One particular anecdote from Giletta’s childhood means a lot more to his father now. 

On a family trip to Puerto Rico when he was about 5 years old, Giletta watched his father’s friend put some belongings in the hotel room safe, and he asked him what he was doing. His father’s friend, who loved Dan Giletta like his own son, according to Bernie Giletta, answered that he was protecting his valuables from anyone who might break into the room.

“Dan said, ‘You better not let anyone come in and steal me because my parents love me a lot,'” Bernie Giletta said that his friend told him later. “I never realized how significant that is. Dan was so secure in the way we felt about him. He was a secure person. I think that’s why he wasn’t jealous or boastful.”

Giletta seemed to like it at Villanova, his father said, adding that it was a reach school for him at first.

“Sophomore year was lost in the shuffle, so to speak,” he said. “That was when he was pledging.”

When Giletta joined Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity, his parents warned him against it, insisting that he would not have enough time to keep up with his engineering classes. Giletta rarely spoke to them about the fraternity, and his father did not learn its name until he came to campus after the accident. 

“It’s the only regret I have — not being able to tell him how great the frat was,” Bernie Giletta said.

The LXA brothers were some of the people at Villanova who knew Giletta the best, but as with most college students, not all of their favorite stories are fit to print.

“We would sit in the Quad and people-watch all day,” said senior and LXA brother Dan McManus. “He was always on one of those Quad benches.”

Senior and President of LXA Pat Venter recalled a time in sophomore year when he asked Giletta to help him build a futon.

“I’m   terrible with instructions, and Dan was an engineer, so I called him to help,” Venter said. “It took him about one to two hours, and it was a hot day, so it was a really nice gesture.” 

Choi said that Giletta would always drop what he was doing to take her on errands last year, since she didn’t have a car on campus.

“He hated to see anyone struggle,” Gobar said. “He was always so willing to do anything. He woke up at 6 a.m. to pick me up from the airport when I came in from my redeye from spring break.”

After falling behind academically in sophomore year, Giletta was working to get back on track with his engineering classes.

“He really switched gears [between sophomore and junior year],” said Pritpal Singh, chair of the department of electrical and computer engineering and Giletta’s academic adviser. “I could see his grades were coming up.”

Bernie Giletta, who studied mechanical engineering, said that he thought his son wanted to prove something to himself.

“He really wanted to stick to it,” he said. “Junior year and this past year — this first semester — I could tell that he was upbeat and happy.”

That didn’t hinder Giletta’s tendency to complain — a habit that both his father and friends remark on warmly.

“He worked at the A&P in Allendale, N.J. as a cashier,” Bernie Giletta said. “He hated it. It gave him a sarcastic viewpoint of people, and he would come home and complain about them.”

Dan Giletta also had a knack for video games, a skill that he capitalized on in high school, playing on a semi-professional Halo team.

“It was no fun to play him anymore because he was just really good,” McManus said.

A few weeks ago, a group of Giletta’s friends from Villanova visited his parents in New Jersey. While the Gilettas’ recent visits to campus have been solemn occasions, this one was more celebratory, Gobar said.

“What’s really been helpful is the tremendous reaction and response from the students, Dan’s friends and some girls he knew,” said Bernie Giletta, who gave Gobar and Choi some of his son’s old T-shirts.

“He had the funniest array of shirts,” Gobar said. “They were so random, and only he could pull them off.” 

Dan Giletta left behind an impression so distinct and sure to those who knew him that it’s easy to forget that not everyone had that privilege. 

“If you didn’t know him, he was a quiet, nice guy and kind of kept to himself,” McManus said. “But if you knew him, he talked a lot.”

And he had fun.

“Holy smokes, this guy was having a ball,” his father said. “Parents always worry about their children — how they feel, if they’re happy. But now I feel like we don’t have to worry about him anymore. After hearing everything that’s been said about him, we’re not worried. We just miss him. We have no regretful feelings — that’s what’s nice, too.”