Former school administrator Fred J. Barone, whose tireless efforts of supporting the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District and its children made him an institution, even after retirement, died Monday at his home in the Town of Cambria after a brief illness. He was 72.
His career with the district spanned 34 years until his retirement in 1991, but his dedication continued. At the time of his death, he was spearheading plans for next year's 50th anniversary celebration of the senior high school, which he served as administrative assistant and assistant principal.
While at Niagara-Wheatfield in 1978, he negotiated with the Buffalo Bills and Ralph Wilson to hold annual football high school playoffs at what is now called Ralph Wilson Stadium.
Mr. Barone appeared at the Nov. 7 Niagara-Wheatfield School Board meeting to promote the 50th-anniversary high school celebration and reminded board members and staff that it was their duty to remember the significance of the past as they planned for the future.
School Superintendent Judith Howard said Mr. Barone was "Niagara-Wheatfield's best supporter in the community. He truly loved the district, and its people also loved him."
Mr. Barone graduated from Wilson Central School in 1953. He graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor's degree from Niagara University in 1957 and later a master's degree from the school. He also completed graduate work at Buffalo State Teachers College and the University at Buffalo.
His teaching career began in 1957 at Nash Road Elementary School, where he taught sixth and seventh grades, before moving to the newly constructed Niagara-Wheatfield High School on opening day, Sept. 5, 1958. He was promoted to administrative assistant in 1961 and then to assistant principal on Sept. 1, 1966. He retired in June 1991 for health reasons.
Mr. Barone told the board three weeks ago that he would still be teaching today if it wasn't for his health.
Niagara County Legislator William Ross, one of Mr. Barone's best friends and a former co-worker in the school district, said he never saw a man dedicate so much time for the betterment of children.
"He was 24-7," said Ross, who started with the district a year before Mr. Barone. "[Education] was his total life. A lot of kids who lost their way were led back to the path of success by Fred. I don't know of anyone who could fill the gap he left."
Mr. Barone was a commissioner of the Section VI Football Federation from 1969 to 1982. Along with helping to arrange high school football playoffs at One Bills Drive when he headed the federation, Mr. Barone led the effort to help student football player Terry Harvey, who became a quadriplegic as the result of a game injury in 1969, Ross said. He said Mr. Barone campaigned to have the Niagara-Wheatfield stadium named Harvey Field, as well as obtain funding for the "Van for Terry" project. He said Mr. Barone continued to visit Harvey until the former player's death at age 44.
He headed, planned and developed athletic facilities and was seen as the catalyst for the construction of the football field, track bleachers, baseball and soccer fields as well as tennis courts. Ross said Mr. Barone also pushed for the formation of the N-W Community Sports Boosters in 1970 and led the initiative to have the facilities built.
Until his death, Mr. Barone was a great organizer, Ross said. Ross, also a member of the anniversary committee, said he would seek to have the celebration dedicated to Mr. Barone.
Mr. Barone served in the U.S. Army National Guard as a sergeant and was a longtime member of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church in Ransomville, where he was a member of the Holy Name Society and taught religious education for 30 years. He also was a member of Niagara Council 247, Knights of Columbus.
He received a special Commendation Award from then-President Richard M. Nixon for service to school and community, as recommended by then-Rep. Jack Kemp. He received the Paul Harris Fellowship Award from Rotary Club International for humanitarian reasons and unselfish commitment to students and community.
He formerly was a member of the Sanborn Jaycees and Sanborn Lions Club. He headed the Lions Club scholarship committee for many years.
Survivors include a sister, Barbara Owen, and a brother, Francis.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Thursday in Immaculate Conception Church, 4671 Townline Road (Route 429), Ransomville, after prayers at 10:15 in the funeral home, 5893 Hoover Road, Sanborn.
-- Niagara Correspondent Thad Komorowski