Joseph "Joe" Bellanca '59/'82 always had a knack for being in the right place at the right time: working toward his academic goals at The College at Brockport, State University of New York, playing defense for the Golden Eagles football team, meeting the girl he would one day marry, getting jobs that would provide a comfortable lifestyle and making lifelong friends.
Joe was inducted into the Golden Eagle Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011 – 54 years after playing in the College's iconic game with Alfred in 1957. As a Golden Eagle, Joe played just about every line position there was – wherever coach Bob Boozer needed him.
"It takes a lot to build a winning football team from the ground up, and Coach Boozer did just that," says Joe, who attributes his success on the football field to his beloved coach and to Harold Rakov who helped Joe make the connection. "It was Dean (Harold) Rakov who introduced me to Coach Boozer the first day I stepped on campus. Coach Boozer and Dean Rakov were terrific guys. Dean Rakov – like Coach Boozer – was big on football. He went to every game he possibly could. It didn't matter if we were playing at home or in Pennsylvania," says Joe, who proudly remembers the football team's most memorable game of all time. "Our team's 2 to 0 win over Alfred in '57 is talked about to this day. It was a night game, cold and snowing, and it was Brockport's first winning season."
It isn't just the Brockport team that remembers that fateful game. "While in Florida this past winter I met a guy from Alfred. He was the water boy for Alfred the year we beat their team 2 to 0. He too remembers that game to this day."
Joe's love of the game and respect for his coach is the reason Michael Andriatch, assistant vice president for Leadership & Planned Giving (who was then the College's Sports Information Director), didn't have to ask Joe twice to take the lead in organizing the 1987 reunion in celebration of the 30th anniversary of the '57 football team. The results? A spectacular reunion experience for everyone involved.
"Beth and I agree. It was a great Alumni Weekend. About 30 former players from our era and their wives came. And we were excited and pleased that our coaches – James Fulton, Bob Boozer, Clark Whited – all participated. Since that weekend, we alums have all stayed connected," Joe says. Ten years later – in 1997 – the party got even bigger. "We held a 50th anniversary celebration for the football program, and we got to meet alums from five decades."
Joe also was chair of the Boozer Field Naming Committee, which raised $100,000 for College athletics. "It was all done by word of mouth, phone calls and letters. I tried to contact as many people as had played for the coach, with most contributing." Since that memorable weekend Joe has served on a number of College committees and on the Alumni Board of Directors.
If Joe attributes his success on the football field to Coach Boozer, he attributes his success in life to the education he received at Brockport.
"If it hadn't been for Brockport, I would never have been in the right place at the right time to meet Beth and build our life together," he says. The Bellancas met at a Christmas party in 1976; on Valentine's Day they went on their first date together, and by mid-summer they were married. Beth was a home economics teacher, and Joe was in sales at the time.
"My Brockport degree changed my life and my family's life. We were able to provide our daughters what they needed to be successful," Joe says. The Bellancas have three daughters — Megan '91, Amy and JoBeth – and two grandsons – Joseph, 9, and Anthony, 7 – who have attended Brockport football games and were front and center for Joe's induction into the Hall of Fame.
"I had wonderful jobs thanks to my Brockport education. I had a smile on my face every day as I drove to work," says Joe, who began his professional life teaching seventh grade at Albion Central School, where he was assistant football coach. After serving in the Marine Corps and spending time in sales, he returned to education. He created a training program for AR, and joined the team at BOCES in Fairport, where he served as principal of the Rush Campus before moving into the position of the BOCES director of Career Planning Services.
Engaged in his community, Joe established a softball program for 8-to-12-year-old girls in Honeoye Falls and was involved with the Vince Lombardi Youth Football League in Monroe County for 9-to-14-year-olds, in which he and Beth remained active for several years. Joe also served on the Honeoye Falls-Lima School Board, the last year as president. Joe retired in 2000, and today he and Beth are enjoying time with family, wintering on Anna Maria Island in Florida and continuing their involvement with The College at Brockport.
"We are financially comfortable and are happy to be able to support the College," says Joe, who, with Beth, established an endowed scholarship, arranged for a planned gift and took advantage of Congress renewing the special tax break for IRA charitable rollovers rollovers to give back to his alma mater.
"Joe put himself through college by working at numerous jobs, and he understands how important scholarships can be to a student," Beth says.
"Yes, I did everything you can think of, including stocking shelves at the A & P, working as a mason's helper during summers, and I also drove a truck for Rochester Radio Supply Company," Joe remembers. "I probably had 15 jobs and even worked at the College washing dishes and keeping the lane schedule for the College's bowling lanes."
Joe also attributes much of his life's success to the discipline and focus he learned in his military service and his comradeship with fellow veterans as a student at Brockport. There were no fraternities or sororities at the College during Joe's time on campus. Veterans clubs were the medium that helped to cultivate lifelong friendships.
"These guys would take you under their wings. Mike Zirpola, Leo Torre, Carl Benedict, Bob Berg, Joe Massi and Gene White were all vets. These guys were a major factor at the College at the time," Joe said. "Of the 11 starters on the football team, five were vets. The baseball team also had many vets, and most professors also were veterans back then, including the coaches. Bob Boozer served in the Navy, and Clark Whited and Jim Fulton both served in the Army."
When the Bellancas established their endowed scholarship, they set the application criteria to reflect their own life experiences. Joe and Beth, first-generation college students, included first-generation requirements as well as military service and participation in high school athletics.
"This year, since both Beth and I are at least 70 ½, we are required to begin taking minimum withdrawals from our IRA. This minimum withdrawal is based on the amount in the account at the end of the previous year. You are required to pay taxes on whatever the minimum distribution amount would be, whether or not you withdraw the money. These taxes can be significant. However, by designating a non-profit as the third party to receive all or part of the IRA minimum distribution, we are able to give the full withdrawal amount to the College, including the amount we would have had to pay for taxes. Congress extended the law through 2013," Joe says. "I would highly recommend this giving opportunity to anyone who is in this position. It is a win-win. We will pay less in taxes because everything we give to Brockport is tax free."
Joe is looking into making a direct contribution in stocks and bonds to the College, which would also carry a significant tax benefit.
"It isn't just the profit on the stock, but the entire amount that would add to the tax benefit," he says. "I'd be happy to talk with anyone who has an interest in doing this."
"The College did a great deal to help position students like myself to where we are financially able to give back in this way. Brockport has become a spectacular place. In the past several years we have had three excellent College presidents – Drs. John Van de Wetering, Paul Yu and now John Halstead. We can clearly see the results of their work, influence and vision at the College."
Joe is choosing to give back to the College in appreciation for all the College has given to him. Thanks to his and Beth's generosity, current and future students will be able to seek and find their own successes in life, and their paths will all begin at Brockport.