The city of Delaware is mourning the loss of Delaware Councilman Joe DiGenova, who died surrounded by family at Grady Memorial Hospital late Sunday afternoon (March 19).
Citing health, DiGenova, 71, had resigned from his council seat last week. He had the most combined years on Council as he served on and off again since 1986. He had represented Delaware’s 3rd Ward since September 2006.
“Joe DiGenova committed a quarter-century of his life to a city that he loved and residents that he cared deeply about,” Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle said in a statement.
Flags were lowered throughout the community to honor the late councilman.
“There are not enough flags in Delaware to lower to give Joe DiGenova the respect he deserves,” Riggle said in a Facebook post.
DiGenova has served on six different city boards and was Council’s liaison to the municipal court and city schools. He worked with four city managers, eight mayors and 24 council members over the years.
“Joe served right up until the end, and there is not a department or institution that he did not touch in some way. We will greatly miss that level of civic involvement and public service,” City Manager Tom Homan said in a statement.
DiGenova was a champion of education in Delaware. He volunteered many hours at Delaware City Schools and helped create the city’s Youth Government program, which introduced high school students to government. He is one of the few inductees of Delaware City Schools Hall of Fame who was not a Hayes High School alumni.
Delaware Superintendent Paul Craft told The Gazette in an email the district was “heartbroken” about DiGenova’s death.
“Joe left this community and our district better than he found them. His tireless service to and advocacy for Delaware were second to none,” he said. “I am so glad we were able to induct him into our schools Hall of Fame several years back — I hope it helped to reinforce for him and his family how much he meant to us.”
A Vietnam War veteran served in the Air Force from 1964 to 1968 and earned a bronze star, DiGenova has been an advocate for veterans. He received an Outstanding Veteran Award at Delaware’s 8th annual Veterans Day Ceremony last year and spearheaded the Veterans Memorial Plaza project, which opened at Delaware Community Center YMCA last May.
“This Memorial Plaza is … a place of remembrance to reflect and honor those that have given their all in the service of their country,” he said at the plaza’s dedication ceremony.
DiGenova was ill for several months, according to a news release from the city. In a letter to Council, DiGenova said he would resign at the end of April.
“It seems like only yesterday I was appointed to on City Council. It became what became, initially, a wonderful experience for me after 25.5 years,” he said.
Third Ward residents can contact Mayor Carolyn Kay Riggle, Vice Mayor Kent Shafer and at-large Councilman George Hellinger to address any issues or concerns.
“Joe was a stand-up, no-BS council representative who worked tirelessly for his community. He will be missed; however, his contributions will continue to benefit the residents of the city for years to come,” Hellinger said in an email.
City spokesman Lee Yoakum said Council will have a process in place for DiGenova’s replacement at its March 27 meeting. Typically, he said, a replacement is appointed after Council interviews candidates.
But DiGenova will be “hard to replace,” Yoakum said. “He was a very active council person.”
DiGenova played a role in several city projects over the last 25 years, including water and sewer plants’ updates, the relocation and expansion of the airport, the renovation of City Hall and the city’s economic growth.
Community members and organizations who worked with DiGenova over the years reacted to the news on social media.
“We served on council together in 1996. I will miss him,” Ohio Auditor Dave Yost said.
Main Street Delaware said that DiGenova’s “legacy will live on.”
DiGenova’s death follows an “accumulation of leadership and devotion to the community that is seen around every corner,” said Holly Quaine, president of the Delaware Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Joe’s selfless and solitary goal of making Delaware a better place stands as an example of the true meaning of public service. I am grateful for the respect and support Joe demonstrated for the Chamber and the affection he shared every time I saw him. My heart is heavy with the loss,” she said.
The Delaware Rotary Club had a moment of silence at its Monday meeting March 20.
Snyder Funeral Home in Delaware is handling arrangements.
Gazette reporter Brandon Klein can be reached by email or on Twitter at @brandoneklein.