BEVERLY — The bylaws of the Beverly High School PTSO recommend a two-year term for its president. But Steve Galante's sense of volunteerism doesn't really come with limits, so he's on his sixth term as the head of the parent/teacher/student organization, give or take a term.

Galante's service to the Beverly public schools, in fact, extends back 26 years. He's volunteered at so many of the city's schools for so long that two of them no longer exist.

"I feel like public education only works if we all support it and do our part," he said.

Galante's remarkable contributions were officially and, befitting his infectious sense of humor, at times comically recognized on Thursday night in the high school library. Family and friends interrupted a quiet PTSO meeting to surprise Galante with a cake, a blow-up photo of himself, a proclamation read by Mayor Mike Cahill, and even a song by high school librarian Barb Fecteau.

It was the final PTSO meeting for Galante, who is stepping down as president as the last of his five children is due to graduate from Beverly High School next month.

"You've done so many wonderful things on behalf of so many kids in this community," Cahill said.

Galante, 58, said his volunteerism was driven not only by a desire to help his own kids, but by a conscious decision to become involved in the community as part of a gay couple with five adopted children.

Galante and his husband, Bill Pluckhahn, were married in the Unitarian Church in 1993, almost a decade before gay marriage was legalized in Massachusetts. They had another ceremony in 2002 when Vermont established civil unions for same-sex couples.

When gay marriage was finally legalized in 2004, they held what Galante called his "big fat Italian wedding at the Hawthorne Hotel in Salem, attended by their five children.

"In 1993, being a gay couple and adopting children was new," he said. "We were forging a trail. I was very aware that it was important to put us out there so that people knew us and and it would make it more comfortable for others."

Galante said he first realized the community had accepted his family when other families began letting their kids do sleepovers at his house.

"The experience has been terrific for us in Beverly," Pluckhahn said. "I can say almost unequivocally that there have been almost no issues at all."

Mercene Perry, who has served with him on school PTO's for years, said that Galante, an accomplished cook, raised more than $60,000 for the schools by auctioning off dinners at his home. City Council President Paul Guanci recalled Galante singing a song on the final day of the old Edwards School.

"He's done more than anyone could ask him to do," Perry said. "He would bring teachers little gifts, boxes of chocolates and flowers. He just makes everyone feel special."

Gallant's school volunteer days may be coming to end, but he's not done with public service. During the surprise ceremony, he mentioned to Cahill that he'd like to serve on the steering committee for the city's new master plan.

"You're on," Cahill said.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

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