No one in the Saddle Brook High School Class of 1995 wasn’t touched in some way by Erik Lemmer and Dino Colombo, two of four local young adults who died in three separate tragedies.
Next month, a labor of love by a trio of those friends will produce a benefit concert by the John Rango Band to fund two scholarships named for Lemmer and Colombo.
Bandleader John Rango is organizing and providing the entertainment for the Aug. 10 Saturday night show at VFW Post 3484 on Market Street.
“John knew both Erik and Dino very well,” said Todd Aiello, one of the co-founders – and co-funders — of the scholarships. “He has handled every detail of this concert and is doing his best to make sure we have a full house.”
“Of all the hundreds upon hundreds upon hundreds of shows I’ve played, I must say I’m extremely thrilled to be doing this one,” Rango said. “Erik Lemmer was the first person I ever played music with when I moved to Saddle Brook in High School and knew nobody.”
Aiello and Senior Class Council President Jennifer Bowen (Madia) came up with the scholarship idea while organizing their class’ 15-year reunion. They announced their idea the night of the reunion, and it was met with overwhelmingly responses.
Each year since then, Aiello and Bowen have awarded six $250 scholarships and two $200 scholarships in the names of their friends.
“It is a wonderful feeling to present these scholarships,” he told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “Erik and Dino were two likable, passionate young men who in their very own ways had an impact on everyone they encountered at SBHS.”
With fewer than 100 students, the class was relatively small. As with most classes that size, many of the youngsters were close.
“Spending four years with the same people day in and day out, you mature and grow together,” Aiello said. “We helped each other to begin forming opinions that would shape the world around us. It was a foundation many of us continued to build on after high school.”
That foundation was shaken when two star-crossed young adults battling drug addictions and their parents’ disapproval of their relationship died of carbon monoxide poisoning in 1997. Christopher Peterson ( above, middle ), a 24-year-old former Saddle Brook High School senior class president, and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Anne Marie Martinez, left suicide notes before leaving the motor running and cranking up the stereo in her 1991 Nissan 240 SX.
As expected, the suicide pact drew widespread media attention.
In a tragic irony, Lemmer ( above, right ) gave an interview to a local newspaper about his friends’ deaths before dying of a drug overdose himself.
Colombo’s story was somewhat different.
It was early February 2000. He had recently been introduced to recreational drug use and was out with some friends when he ingested what he thought was cocaine. Whatever it was, it was lethal.
“He was not an abuser,” said Aiello, Colombo’s best friend. “He made a mistake and unfortunately paid for it with his life.
“It’s so important for kids to know that you don’t need to be an addict for drugs to destroy you.”
It’s one of the reasons why he and Bowen ask Saddle Brook High School students to write an essay, as part of a local package distributed by the guidance department, on the reasons for avoiding drugs.
“We read the essays and select two students to award the scholarships to,” Aiello explained. “We also use their academic resumes to choose two recipients who may most identify with Erik and Dino.”
Aiello, Bowen and Rango are hoping not only for a huge turnout at next month’s concert but also for donations from those looking to invest in our society’s future.
“Every nickel, for as long as we have money, will go to SBHS graduating seniors,” Aiello told CLIFFVIEW PILOT . “We would also like to increase the amount given. It is tough to rely on the same sources few year after year.”
Rango said his band “is planning to cover an iconic contemporary album in its entirety” for the second set – although he cleverly won’t disclose which.
“I truly feel bringing everyone together through music in a social setting and not for a sad occasion is a celebration of their lives — and a cause that is important,” he said.
“What John is doing here is amazing,” Aiello said. “I know how gifted he is musically and have no doubts this will be an extremely successful evening.”
TICKETS: $50 tickets (includes admission and four-hour open bar)
1. Go to
2. Click “Send Money”
3. Click to “Send to family or friends ($50)
4. Send to email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
5. PRINT YOUR RECEIPT (that will be your ticket)
NOTE: Ticket sales end Aug. 1. No tickets will be sold at the door
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