March 29, 1926 – April 29, 2019
Benny F. Constantino, of Amherst, a retired Buffalo elementary school principal and basketball official, died April 29. He was 93.
Born in Buffalo, the son of Italian immigrants, he grew up on the West Side and was drafted into the Army in 1944 out of McKinley High School, where he played football and basketball.
“During his junior year at McKinley,” McShea wrote, “(he) took an exam to qualify for the (Army) Air Force. However, when he reported to Fort Dix, N.J., on the day after school ended, he was told that month’s quota for the Air Force had already been filled.
“Then he saw a poster advertising an extra $50 per month for paratroopers.
“‘I wanted to do something extra special, I wanted to do something different,’ Mr. Constantino said. ‘I decided to challenge myself. It’s one of the best things I’ve ever done.’
“He trained for 16 weeks at Fort Bragg, N.C., and then four weeks at jump school in Fort Benning, Ga. He was part of the 13th Airborne Division before being assigned to the 82nd Airborne. He was based in France, about 50 miles north of Paris, and was part of five jumps in northern Germany.”
One of those was the Rhine Jump during Operation Varsity, the largest one-day airborne operation in history.
Returning from service, he attended the University at Buffalo on the GI Bill and was a varsity basketball player for three years. He earned a bachelor’s degree in physical education and later completed a master’s degree in school administration.
Mr. Constantino began teaching at Bishop Timon High School and Baker Victory High School, then went to the former Fillmore Junior High School in Buffalo, where he taught physical education. He helped initiate the first Learning Adjustment Program for the Buffalo Schools.
He went on to serve as assistant principal at School 6 and School 78, then became principal of School 3 in 1971. He retired in 1985.
He was a basketball official on the Division 1 levels for high school and college games for 28 years.
A member of the ECAC/CBOA (Eastern College Athletic Conference/College Basketball Officials Association), he was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Buffalo Board 52, International Association of Approved Basketball Officials.
Proud of his boyhood connection with the Butler Mitchell Boys Club on Virginia Street, he was one of the founders of the club’s Alumni Association in 1955 and is a member of the Butler Mitchell Hall of Fame. He remained active in the club’s boards and activities for many years.
A volunteer for Bunkers for Baghdad, which assists military members serving overseas, he manned a special table, “Betting for Benny,” at the organization’s annual golf tournament.
In 2013, he and his best friend since childhood, Mel Palano, were recognized for their service by the Honor Flight Network. They were among 26 veterans flown to Washington, D.C., and taken on a tour of World War II memorials.
Mr. Constantino met his wife, Bernice “Betty” Ozimek, at Crystal Beach amusement park, where she caught his eye as a jitterbug dancer. They were married in 1950 and regularly attended dances at Kleinhans Music Hall and the Dellwood Ballroom. A certified medical records technician at Erie County Medical Center, she died in 2016.
Survivors include a son, Paul; a daughter, Diane Peterson; a granddaughter; and two great-granddaughters.
A Mass of Christian Burial was offered May 3 in St. Christopher’s Catholic Church, 2660 Niagara Falls Blvd., Town of Tonawanda.