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Covid-19 victim was astronomer and popular high school teacher

Joseph A. Palmeri was a high school science teacher who was fascinated by worlds far beyond our own.

On clear nights, he would spend hours outside his City of Tonawanda home, gazing through one of his many telescopes at the stars and planets.

“Anything to do with planets, space, Star Trek, unidentified flying objects – he was fascinated with all that stuff,” recalled Thomas Palmeri, one of his sons. “He loved sitting out there with his telescopes. He also enjoyed conspiracy theories.”

Palmeri, 76, became one of the region’s Covid-19 victims on April 19, when he died at the Weinberg Campus senior community in Amherst.

“What made losing him so much tougher was not being able to be there with him when he died,” said Kristen Palmeri, his daughter. “Because of state regulations, I was not able to visit him for the last month of his life. It’s really upsetting that so many of these Covid-19 victims are dying all alone.”

She said she was able to talk with her father by phone a few times in the last weeks of his life, but he was not able to communicate well.

Palmeri also suffered from dementia and had lived at Weinberg for about two years, his family said.

Donna Burke, his wife of 45 years, died in 2009.

The son of Sicilian immigrants, Palmeri graduated from Hutchinson Central Technical High School and Buffalo State College before he began his teaching career in the mid-1960s.

He taught for 40 years, spending almost his entire career at Grover Cleveland High School in Buffalo.

“He loved astronomy and really enjoyed working with students from immigrant families who had limited English skills,” Kristen Palmeri said. “He really connected with his students. At times when I visited the school, kids would come up to me and tell me Mr. Palmeri was their favorite teacher.”

“He developed bonds with these kids from Vietnam and other countries,” Thomas Palmeri said.

And Thomas Palmeri added one more recollection about his father – he loved donuts.

Palmeri is also survived by another son, Daniel; a sister, Jeanne Lanzieri; and two grandsons.

The Buffalo News is publishing stories about people from Buffalo Niagara who have died due to Covid-19. Please contact The News at if you know of someone whose story we should tell.

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