Joseph DiGennaro was chairman of the Health and Physical Education...

Joseph DiGennaro was chairman of the Health and Physical Education Department at Lehman College for many years. Credit: DiGennaro family

The definition of a scholar-athlete, Bayville’s Joseph DiGennaro was chairman of the Health and Physical Education Department at Lehman College in the Bronx for many years — and before that a two-sport varsity player when the school was still part of Hunter College.

He later coached track-and-field and basketball there, winning the NCAA’s old Knickerbocker Conference in the latter sport in 1967.

He also wrote two books — “Individualized Exercise and Optimal Physical Fitness” (1974) and “The New Physical Fitness: Exercise for Everybody” (1983) — and lobbied for the retention of public tennis courts in Locust Valley.

Lauded by his wife, Jo-Tina DiGennaro, as “a great father and a great husband,” Joseph DiGennaro died at home on March 2 at age 85 after having been diagnosed with stomach cancer shortly after Thanksgiving.

“The last two weeks as he was passing away, our four kids were together with him in the room sharing memories,” said his wife.

“Coach was always very detail-oriented,” said Harry Barile, of Kendall Park, New Jersey, who played for DiGennaro’s Hunter basketball teams and as an adult became a friend. “He used to have a series of index cards that he ran his practice with, so that we would go from drill to drill to drill. Even in the classroom, he was very organized and it brought us all together.”

Barile, a retired New York City high school basketball coach, would make a habit of using index cards himself. “I guess the greatest tribute you can give somebody is if you copy ’em a little bit,” he said.

Joseph Francis DiGennaro was born in the Bronx, the middle of three sons of Police Officer Phillip DiGennaro and Rose DiGennaro. He attended Cardinal Hayes High School, a Catholic school for boys, and went on to Hunter College’s Bronx campus, graduating in 1961.

After earning a master’s degree in health education at the University of Illinois the following year, he began teaching at Hunter while working on his Columbia University doctorate in education.

In 1967, he met his future wife, Hunter cheerleader and physical education major Jo-Tina Colicchio — “He knew me as a student, but I never was in one of his classes,” she recalled — and they started dating after she graduated.

The couple married on Dec. 16, 1967, and lived initially in Yonkers. After a move to Montrose, New York, the family settled in Bayville in 1977, and DiGennaro took a year’s leave from what was by then Lehman College to teach at what is now LIU Post, in Brookville. Afterward, he returned to Lehman, going on to serve as department chair from 1983 to 1989 and 1994 to 1995, when he retired. In 1987, he was inducted into the Hunter College Athletics Hall of Fame.

In Bayville, he was a leader of its Little League program and also coached Catholic Youth Organization basketball, his family said. And he helped to keep public tennis courts in nearby Locust Valley from being turned into a parking lot.

“Joe was our spokesperson” at public forums over the issue, said his friend and fellow tennis player Gerry Maida, of Locust Valley. Those meetings were sometimes contentious, “with yelling and screaming,” he said. “Joe would wait for people to quiet down, and then systematically and very graciously describe the courts’ importance to the community and as a matter of physical education, and make a logical and compelling argument” that would help win the day.

An avid skier, swimmer and golfer, DiGennaro ran the Yonkers Marathon in 1977 and two half marathons on Long Island in the early 1980s, his family said.

In addition to his wife, Joseph DiGennaro is survived by their four children, JoAnn Criblez, of Bayville, Joseph and James DiGennaro, both of Astoria, Queens, and John DiGennaro, of Brookline, New Hampshire; his brothers, Michael DiGennaro, of Manhattan, and Phillip DiGennaro, of Pompano Beach, Florida; and seven grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was held at St. Gertrude Roman Catholic Church in Bayville on Tuesday, followed by burial at Locust Valley Cemetery. Donations can be made to Hermansky-Pudlak syndrome research at HPSNetwork.org.

More on this topic
Breaking News: Widespread Microsoft outage disrupting global flights, banks and companies Credit: Newsday

Updated now Breaking News: Widespread Microsoft outage disrupting global flights, banks and companies

Breaking News: Widespread Microsoft outage disrupting global flights, banks and companies Credit: Newsday

Updated now Breaking News: Widespread Microsoft outage disrupting global flights, banks and companies

Latest Videos

YOU'VE BEEN SELECTED

FOR OUR BEST OFFER ONLY 25¢ for 5 months

Unlimited Digital Access.

cancel anytime.