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Erno Rossi, 84, teacher who wrote celebrated book on Blizzard of 1977

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Erno Rossi
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March 19, 1936 – Feb. 16, 2021

Erno Rossi, author of celebrated books on the Blizzard of 1977 and Crystal Beach, died Feb. 16 in Welland County General Hospital in Welland, Ont., after a short illness. He was 84.

A teacher, environmentalist and preservationist, he led a campaign to save the Lake Erie lighthouses in Port Colborne, Ont., and gave guided tours of them.

Born at home in Port Colborne in the wake of the famous St. Patrick's Day snowstorm of 1936, Erno Delano Rossi was the youngest of four boys. His father was an Italian immigrant, his mother hailed from Punxsutawney, Pa., and both were factory workers at the Inco metal refinery in Port Colborne.

“Because his dad died when he was 14, it gave him incentive to do well in life,” his daughter Cynthia Rossi said. “He really pushed himself.”

After graduating from Port Colborne High School, he earned his way through McMaster University in Hamilton by working summers in the blast furnaces at Inco. On weekends during college, his daughter said, he would drive home to see his high school sweetheart, Elaine Biederman. They were married in December 1961.

Mr. Rossi went on to receive a degree from the University of Toronto College of Education and completed his master’s degree in environmental studies and wildlife management at Michigan State University.

“He learned wilderness survival tactics at Michigan State and brought them home to Port Colborne,” his daughter said.

He taught for one year in Caledonia, Ont., and three years in Beamsville before starting at Port Colborne High School in 1964. He retired in 1993. 

Popular and unconventional as a history and sociology teacher, he took classes on field trips to the beach and gave lessons in survival, which included catching wild animals.

“He’d bring chickens,” his daughter said. “They’d call it the chicken safari and they really enjoyed it, being like a caveman for a day.”

When the massive blizzard struck in 1977, he was chairman of the high school’s history department.

In a 1999 article about the storm, Buffalo News reporter Paula Voell wrote: “As (he) looked out his window onto the lake – ‘like looking into a milk bottle’ – on that fateful Friday in 1977, he knew there was a book in the making. He immediately started taping both Buffalo and Ontario radio stations.

“Later, he interviewed Mayor Stanley Makowski, Civil Defense officials, police officers, hotel desk clerks, restaurant owners, medical and morgue personnel, compiling an oral history.”

Mr. Rossi self-published “White Death: Blizzard of ‘77” and immediately sold 15,000 copies. He brought out a revised millennium edition in 2001 and gave many lectures and presentations on the storm.

Mr. Rossi went on to publish “Full Moon,” a 1979 collection of tales about the effects of the moon on people, and “Crystal Beach – The Good Old Days,” a history of the amusement park and lakeside resort, in 2006.

In 1976, he was co-author of a popular Canadian history textbook, “Many Cultures – Many Heritages,” which is still used today.

He produced DVD documentaries on the Blizzard of ‘77 and Crystal Beach. Another DVD, “Call Them and They Will Come,” is a documentary of a moose hunt in the North Woods.

“He loved taking people on survival trips,” his daughter Cynthia said. “He liked to identify plants and animals and go fishing.”

As a freelance writer, he published numerous articles on the outdoors and survival. He also traveled around the world.

After the Canadian government declared more than 1,000 lighthouses and navigation beacons as surplus, he rallied an effort to save the ones in Port Colborne.

He was a founder and first chairman of the Friends of the Port Colborne Lighthouses. The group got the lighthouses included in the city’s Canal Days Marine Heritage Festival beginning in 2013 and opened the lighthouses for tours.

“White Death” received the Award of Merit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and earned Mr. Rossi a nomination for a Juno Award. He was listed in “Who’s Who of American Poets and Writers” and was a member of the Writers Union of Canada.

At the time of his death, he was at work on a memoir.

In addition to his wife, a retired secretary, survivors include two daughters, Cynthia Rossi and Lisa Rossi; and several nieces and nephews.

Funeral services will be private.

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Dale Anderson has been a Buffalo News staff reporter since 1968. He was the chief rock and pop writer for 20 years and helped establish the weekend entertainment magazine Gusto.

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