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Strike Up the Band! How One Caldwell Alum Reached for the Stars

Caldwell Alumni Dot Cacchio

It don’t mean a thing (if it ain’t got that swing)!

There’s nothing like a big band classic to get your toes tapping. For Dot Cacchio ’61, however, that swing sound was more than music to the ears. It was an invitation to follow your heart.

Dot’s angel took the form of her piano teacher in Mendham, whose husband taught physics at Caldwell, Dot recalls. “He told me to go see Sister Joanna, which I did. To this day, I don’t remember ever actually applying to attend the college, but before I knew it I was signed up for my first semester!”

Dot fell in love with Caldwell. “Coming from Morristown High School, which was quite large, I really appreciated the small community feel of Caldwell. I have wonderful memories from those years and many close friendships to this day.”

Some of those memories include playing semi-professional softball for the MacGregor Marauders. It was another dream come true for Dot, who is an avid Yankees fan, as the team played on fields just outside Yankee Stadium.

“We learned to be strong women at Caldwell,” Dot notes. “There were only 115 women in my freshman class. It was up to us to make things happen on campus. And we had so many wonderful role models on the faculty and among the sisters.”

After earning a bachelor of arts in music at Caldwell, the talented musician—Dot plays clarinet, alto sax, soprano sax, flute and piccolo in addition to piano—went on to graduate study in music at what was then Trenton State College. Her years at Caldwell prepared her for the rigors of academia. “After meeting the high standards of my professors at Caldwell, graduate school was easy by comparison!”

She never strayed too far from Caldwell, though, returning in the 1970s to teach. “I loved spending time with the other professors there, talking about ideas, making big plans.”

Dot did more than plan. She established a musical theater program that taught students all aspects of the musical theater business. She also initiated a children’s musical theater troupe and another troupe for adults, called the North Jersey Repertory Theatre. She directed a 25-voice choir and 54-voice chorus as well. She performed in musical theater orchestras throughout New Jersey and in Pennsylvania as well, in productions ranging from Cabaret to Anything Goes.

She never strayed too far from her dream to lead her own band, either, and in 1980 she formed the Silver Starlight Orchestra. The 20-piece band, which features two vocalists, has performed with headliners such as Bob Hope, the Glenn Miller Orchestra, Ray Noble, Lionel Hampton and many others.

Dot’s accomplishments don’t stop there. She also found time for a 17-year career as a junior high school teacher and to write a memoir, A Fresh Tree Every Christmas: A Love Story.

It is only fitting, then, that Dot was selected to receive the Veritas Award in 2001, in recognition of her achievements.

Dot still visits the campus often, and is in close touch with her college friends. They get together regularly for a book club, where the talk often turns to reminiscing about Caldwell. “We are all grateful for what the sisters did for us. They taught us to think, to share, to lead, and to care. You could go to them any time with a problem, or to just talk.”

Her love for Caldwell now extends to her legacy plans and she has left a bequest in her will to establish a scholarship fund for women students in their junior year, who face financial challenges that would otherwise prevent them from graduating.

When asked about her decision to give generously, she states, simply, “Caldwell has been such a blessing to me.”

Most vivid Caldwell memory? Listening to Sister Alicia play piano—she could play ragtime like nobody’s business!

Greatest achievements?Succeeding in what was then a “man’s world.”

Most influential book? “Your Erroneous Zones,” by Wayne Dyer

Best adventure? I haven’t had it yet!

Advice for today’s Caldwell students? Follow your heart and take your brain with you.