John Mario Panza, 87, of Fairmont, passed away Friday, May 25, 2018.
He was born June 22, 1930, to his parents, the late Domenick and Rose (Imbrogno) Panza.
He received his Bachelor of Arts in education from Fairmont State College, Master of Arts in counseling from West Virginia University and pursued doctoral studies. John was employed as an adjunct associate professor in the Graduate Rehabilitation Program for many years on the campus of WVU, where he met the love of his life, the late Jennie Kilianski, whom he married in 1969.
John’s life mission was to serve others for a greater good. He accomplished his mission with a 40-plus year career in vocational rehabilitation providing individuals with disabilities specialized training and resources to obtain employment and lead successful lives. He started his career as a rehabilitation counselor and rose to the highest level in the agency as West Virginia State director of Vocational Rehabilitation and later became an independent vocational consultant.
John was an active leader in the American Diabetes Association, where he participated on several national committees and led the West Virginia Affiliate as chairman of the Board and president. John and Jennie’s efforts helped lead to the enactment of National Diabetes Research and Education legislation to establish diabetes education chapters throughout the state of West Virginia. John was a member of the Fairmont General Hospital Board of Directors, Knights of Columbus and St. Mary Catholic Church.
Known as “Big John,” he was a great home run hitter in both baseball and in life. He was a passionate and competitive athlete winning MVP and All Conference Intercollegiate awards in baseball. His skilled baseball swing turned into an enviable golf swing earning him many golf trophies. He won the National Counselor of the Year award from the National Rehabilitation Association in 1965. He earned the Distinguished West Virginian Award from Governor John D. Rockefeller IV in 1983 and Governor Gaston Caperton in 1994. He was appointed to various West Virginia education and technical councils by Governor Joe Manchin III and Governor Earl Ray Tomblin. He was frequently published in the Journal of Rehabilitation Administration and received numerous awards of distinction for his service to individuals with disabilities and to the community at large.
John dearly loved his family and friends. He was an inspirational leader and champion for many humanitarian causes. He gave of his time and energy freely to help others around him. His compassion, optimism and spirit will live on forever in the lives he touched.
John is survived by his daughter, Regina Rose Panza, of Canonsburg, Pa.; brother-in-law, Joseph Kilianski (Sue), of Marco Island, Fla.; nephew, Dr. Joseph Kilianski (Helene), of Dallas; niece, Jennifer Burton (Glenn), of Houston; and many cousins and extended family.
In addition to his parents and his wife, he was preceded in death by his brother, Guy Panza.
Special thanks to the staff at the Village at Heritage Point and Mapleshire and all those who supported him in his final months.
The family will receive friends and relatives at Domico Funeral Home, 414 Gaston Ave., in Fairmont, from 2-8 p.m. Friday, with a prayer vigil at 5 p.m. with Sister Stella Cronauer officiating.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, in Fairmont, at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 2, with Father Joe Konikattil as celebrant. Interment will follow at Mt. Carmel Cemetery.
The family requests, in lieu of flowers, that donations be made to the American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 15829, Arlington, VA 22215.