MOONACHIE, N.J. — Charles Pallas walked into the cafeteria at Robert L. Craig School for a Moonachie Board of Education meeting Tuesday just as he's done every year for the past four decades.
But instead of seeing the handful of people who usually attend the board meetings, the 93-year-old grandfather saw his daughter, Barbara, and his son, Chuck.
He saw his brother, Freddie, his six grandchildren and four nieces and nephews.
He saw the senior citizens he works with as president of the Moonachie Senior Club.
He even saw his sister-in-law, who had flown in from New Mexico to share the moment.
"I think this is probably one of the biggest surprises of my whole life," Pallas told Daily Voice. "I can't believe all these people managed to keep this a secret from me."
They had gathered to join the board in honoring Pallas for his 40 years of service to the Moonachie Public School District by renaming the superintendent's conference room the "Charles Pallas Conference Room."
"I can't think of somebody more deserving of this honor," Board President David Vaccaro said. "Charles is a mentor and he does it all for the kids."
The Bronx native and World War II veteran bought a house in Moonachie with his wife, Mae, in 1958.
He spent most of his career as a deputy chief for the insurance department of the State of New York but always found time to serve his community.
Pallas served as Moonachie police commissioner, a longtime councilman and a member of the Board of Education.
"Moonachie means everything to my father," his son, Chuck, said. "He gets involved with everything and wants to help as many people as he can."
Pallas still lives in his Edstan Drive home.
"I am very lucky to have lived here all these years," he said. "And I am one of the happiest guys in the world today."