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Rush-Henrietta Remembers the Many Contributions of Joe Bellanca Sr., Longtime Advocate

Joe Bellanca Sr., a 1965 Rush-Henrietta graduate who served his community and our school district in many ways, died December 11, 2020. Joe was a passionate supporter of the Royal Comets, a student and teacher of local history, and a well-known volunteer who was a driving force behind the Rush-Henrietta Alumni Council.
 
The son of the late Sam and Frances Bellanca, Joe grew up in a different time and place and often marveled at how the community had changed during his lifetime. He enjoyed sharing memories from his childhood, when his rural hometown of Henrietta was sparsely populated.
 
Joe grew up near a then-undeveloped intersection of Calkins and West Henrietta roads. As shared in our community newsletter last year, it was there he was struck by a car as he got off the school bus in 1956. Fortunately, the fourth-grader was not seriously injured. Joe told this story, and provided pictures from the scene, to help the district reinforce the need for drivers to be careful on our roads during National Bus Safety Week. Anything to help, he explained.
 
Joe spent his K-12 years at the Rush-Henrietta Central School, which is now known as Roth Junior High School. It was the first school built after Rush-Henrietta was formed nearly 75 years ago. Joe took special pride in being part of that important time and place in district history.
 
Always quick with a story, Joe enjoyed sharing tales of his time in school. For instance, he told us how he took part in shenanigans on the day of a big homecoming basketball game nearly 60 years ago. That morning, he and some of his teammates decided on a whim to sneak out of school to get haircuts at Colosi’s Barber Shop on East Henrietta Road. Upon their return, they were greeted by school administrators and Dr. John Parker, district superintendent. While the boys were able to dress for the big game, Joe laughingly explained, they were not allowed to play. Joe loved reflecting on his time in Rush-Henrietta and was known for how well he kept in touch with friends and classmates long after graduation.
 
A veteran of the United States Army who enjoyed a successful banking career, Joe had a long history of service to his community and alma mater. In 2006, before tools such as Facebook became mainstream, he identified a growing need to reconnect graduates with the school district. With that in mind, and with help from his longtime friend and fellow R-H graduate, the late Bob Thompson, Joe became a founding member of the Rush-Henrietta Alumni Council. That volunteer organization hosts the annual Alumni Council Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Without his knowledge, Joe was selected for induction and took his rightful place among notable alumni in 2015.
Joe served as Alumni Council president since its inception, and was tireless in connecting graduates with one another and their alma mater. He helped the district foster communication with alumni, organized countless class reunions, and informed and advised the school district on matters of interest to graduates. He also gave many tours of our schools to those attending class reunions and gave advice and support to those interested in alumni events. Days before his passing, the district unearthed a 1991 letter in which Joe wrote to Dr. Lawrence Kanner, then principal of Rush-Henrietta Senior High School, requesting to borrow risers for a musical performance at an upcoming reunion. For decades, he thought about ways to help connect graduates
 
In 2009, the Rush-Henrietta Central School District recognized Joe with its Volunteer of the Year award. Joe served the community in many other ways, as well. He volunteered for the Henrietta’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee and was chair of the Henrietta Board of Assessment Review. Joe packed groceries and delivered them for Rush-Henrietta Area Food Terminal, and donated his time to assist with the LPGA Rochester International golf tournament, Neighborhood Housing Association, Catholic Family Center, and Rush-Henrietta Education Foundation.
 
When the Henrietta Foundation assumed operation of the former Executive South Golf Course, Joe agreed to be its range manager. Even in retirement, he woke up at the crack of dawn to head to the East Henrietta Road location, where he scoured the fields each day for lost golf balls. The job was not glamorous, but it was an important service, and that is what Joe liked to provide.
 
Joe is survived by his wife, Connie, a retired Rush-Henrietta teacher, and two children, Wendi and Joe Jr., a social studies teacher and coach at the Senior High School. As proud as he was of his alma mater, Joe was prouder still of his family. Each of us in the Rush-Henrietta Central School District extends heartfelt sympathies to Joe’s family. We truly appreciated him, his love of our school district, and his lifetime of service to our community.