Oct. 10, 1929 – Jan. 12, 2019
After Joseph Natale's wife, Dorothy, died in 1977, he found himself, in his own words, "overcompensating as a father" to his son and two daughters.
But after a few years, Mr. Natale told his son Gregory in a 2008 StoryCorps interview, "I realized that I had to start to do something for myself as well as my kids."
That "something" was local theater. Over the next decades, Mr. Natale not only entertained audiences and illuminated stages in Western New York, but opened up a glorious new life. Through his work as an actor, he met Kelli Gray Bocock, a West Virginia native who had just moved to Buffalo.
He played her fiance in Alleyway Theatre's 1989 production of "Holy Ghosts." Although he was 33 years older, she said, "For me, it was love at first sight." Soon enough he agreed; they married in 1994.
Mr. Natale, best known for his many appearances with Shakespeare in Delaware Park, died Saturday in Buffalo General Medical Center after a period of declining health. A resident of Depew, he was 89.
"We are devastated by the loss of our patriarch, and feeling rudderless not to have him here to guide us with his wisdom and caring through these troubled seas," his son, Gregory Natale, posted on Facebook. "Though sorrow is deeply present in our hearts right now, Joe’s well-lived and long life cannot help but to pull us out of our current sadness."
Born in Buffalo, he was the fourth child and only son of Salvatore Natale, a railroad worker, and Rose Pattacciato Natale, both immigrants from Southern Italy.
He graduated from School 43 and in 1947 from East High School. He had completed one year of study toward a bachelor's degree in speech and drama at the University at Buffalo when he was drafted into the Army. A combat veteran of Korea, he earned the rank of sergeant.
He returned home and completed his undergraduate degree, then worked for 10 years in real estate and insurance.
Mr. Natale married Dorothy "Dottie" Radzik on Nov. 22, 1951, in Buffalo. They moved to Depew in the mid-1950s. In a 1981 Father's Day profile, he told Buffalo News columnist Karen Brady, "It's funny. I never thought about becoming a teacher till my wife told me I would be a natural one."
Mr. Natale returned to school and earned a master's degree in English education from Canisius College. The Natales both taught English at Lancaster Central High School.
"We were separated only by one classroom, Dottie and I," Mr. Natale said. "We thought that was a good thing."
He served as a Depew village trustee starting in 1962, then in July 1967 was appointed mayor after the death of Mayor Eugene Ziemba. Mr. Natale, running on the Good Government line, was elected to a four-year term in March 1968.
His wife died in 1977.
In the early 1980s, he began acting in local theater. After he and Kelli Bocock-Natale met in 1989, their relationship was a bit of a scandal, she said, "but the age difference was never an obstacle for us." They married on May 7, 1994, in the Unitarian Universalist Church of Amherst.
Mr. Natale retired from teaching at Lancaster Senior High School in 1991.
Through the years, Mr. Natale played Caesar and "a lot of priests," said his wife, chuckling. "And he played wonderful priests; he was great at it."
But he loved Shakespeare, performing with Shakespeare in Delaware Park for 20 years. His favorite role, she said, was Quince in "A Midsummer Night's Dream."
Mr. Natale also appeared in productions for Buffalo United Artists, the Kavinoky Theatre, the New Phoenix Theatre, the Ujima Theatre Company and the Irish Classical Theatre Company, among others. He also directed plays for New Phoenix Theatre, Buffalo Theatre Ensemble, Curtain Call Productions and at Daemen College.
His final role was in 2016, when he appeared in "Love's Passionate Fire," a modernized compendium of Shakespeare's sonnets conceived and directed by his wife.
"I did that show for him," she said. "I thought, 'How can I get my husband back on stage?' He was so beautiful in that, just lovely."
In one scene, Mr. Natale appeared with Noah Doktor, who was 8. "I thought it would be so touching to have a young man at the beginning of his life and an older man at the end of his life," said Bocock-Natale. "And it was."
Besides his wife and son, Gregory, Mr. Natale is survived by two daughters, Pamela Johnson and Andrea Natale; seven grandchildren; a great-grandchild; and nieces and nephews.
A funeral Mass will be offered at 9:30 a.m. Saturday in St. Martha Catholic Church, 10 French Road, Depew.