Joseph B. Panzarella, a restaurant-management student at Buffalo State College and a waiter at several well-known Buffalo restaurants who hoped to own a restaurant someday, died Monday morning in Sisters Hospital after a choking accident in the North Buffalo home he shared with his parents. He was 20.
"Joey Panz," as he was known to his wide array of friends -- more than 100 of whom gathered for a candlelight ceremony Wednesday night at Hoyt Lake -- was a lifelong resident of Buffalo's Parkside neighborhood.
He graduated from St. Mark's School in 2004 and went on to St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute, where he played football for four years, graduating in 2008. He was also a member of the St. Joe's swim team. An avid Yankees fan, he played baseball since age 4, and in later years coached Little League teams.
His love of football and his warm personality led him to organize an annual Thanksgiving morning football game for friends and family, dubbed the Turkey Bowl, in Delaware Park.
Last spring, he earned an associate degree in hotel and restaurant management from Erie Community College. He was a busboy or waiter at such restaurants as Siena, Fiamma Steak, Encore and Tempo, and most recently had been working as a waiter at Bambino Bar and Kitchen downtown.
Everywhere he went, he gathered friendships.
"I've never seen anybody with so many close friends," said his mother, Cheryl Baker Panzarella, who described her son as always optimistic and good-natured.
He was also devoted to his family members, especially his paternal grandmother, Theresa Marie Panzarella.
In addition to his mother, he is survived by his father, Vincent.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Mark Catholic Church, 401 Woodward Ave.