A ‘quiet genuineness’

Notre Dame alums from the Class of 1977 get together to honor much-beloved classmate with donations to The Notre Dame Fund.

NOTE: HONORING JOE CIOLINO: Notre Dame and members of its Class of 1977 sponsored a special giving day on August 28 where classmates and friends of Joe honored him by donating directly to The Notre Dame Fund's "Mary's Way," which provides financial aid and scholarships to families at Notre Dame. 

Joe Ciolino graduated from Notre Dame High School in 1977. Since then, he has lived life to the fullest, graduating from Eastern Michigan University, marrying the love of his life, Shelly, after which came two children and two beautiful grandchildren. He also was a partner and CFO at Birmingham, Mich.-based BELFOR Property Restoration, one of North America's largest companies specializing in integrated disaster recovery and property restoration services.

Unfortunately, that very full life came to an unexpected end in November when Ciolino, 59, suffered a massive heart attack at work and passed away, shocking all who knew him, including an extremely close group of fellow 1977 Notre Dame alums.

Among those alums was Brian Kelly, who had many memories of his friend to share.

"Several years ago, Joe thought it would be great to get some of us in the NDHS Class of ‘77 together to reminisce and stay in touch," Kelly said. "We are a close-knit group, but we're also spread out around the country. So in 2007 Joe set up a golf weekend at the Garland Lodge and Golf Resort up north in Lewiston for all of us. That first year, we maybe had eight of us in attendance. In the years that followed, the numbers grew to sometimes more than 20 alums. Guys came in from Texas, California, New York, North Carolina, Montana, as well from all over Michigan."

Kelly said that while they called those annual trips to Lewiston a “golf weekend”, truth be told, he said, golf was secondary. 

"Each year, we told the same stories, the same jokes, and each year, we laughed harder and smiled more broadly than the previous year," Kelly said. "Eating frozen pizzas, drinking too many beers and listening to Tom “Kernal” Keenan’s dramatic reading of the ‘77 yearbook were the real reasons for making the trip. Getting updates on each other’s jobs, what meds we were taking, our kids and (yikes!) grandkids brought us even closer."

And in the middle of it all, according to Kelly, was the "quiet genuineness" of Ciolino. 

"The wide smile on his face as he shook his head at another of Dave Coulier’s teacher imitations or unique hand noises let you know that Joe truly enjoyed being with his buddies," said Kelly, who is the athletic director and assistant principal at Cardinal Mooney High School in Marine City, Mich. "Dr. Bill 'Mole' Cirocco’s stories of unique discoveries as a surgeon never got old, nor did watching Jimmy Saylor take over for our waiter while being less than fully clothed. I think this is what Joe wanted when he started the 'golf weekend' a dozen or so years ago for all of his NDHS friends." 

Now, that close group of Notre Dame friends are getting together once again as a tribute to Ciolino and creating a special fund and giving day on August 28 in his memory to benefit students at Pontiac Notre Dame Prep.

Contributions to the fund in memory of Ciolino will be directed to the school's Notre Dame Fund through "Mary's Way," which provides financial support for scholarships to Notre Dame. More information on Mary's Way and The Notre Dame Fund is here.

Ciolino's Notre Dame classmate David Bologna is spearheading the effort, which already has seen an initial $10,000 donation from Belfor's CEO Sheldon Yellen, noting that Ciolino is terribly missed by those who knew and loved him at his company.

"Joe Ciolino was a man who stood for all that is right in this world," said Yellen, who counted Ciolino as not only a partner in business but a close friend.

Bologna nearly echoed Yellen's sentiments.

“Joe was a kind-hearted man who supported so many — from inner-city kids seeking a better education to colleagues and friends," said Bologna, who is a Notre Dame Prep current and alum parent. "He started our golf outing weekend to help stay connected to his Class of 1977 friends and it was a weekend all of us cherished and that we will carry on in his honor. I was very blessed to have him as a good friend.”

Last month, Bologna got the group together in Ciolino's memory for a golf outing, albeit in Troy this time at Pine Trace Golf Course followed by a BBQ at Bologna's home.

Another regular at the golf outings was 1977 alum Mark Cendrowski, who made the annual trek from California, where he works as director of The Big Bang Theory television show.

"Joe was always the quietest guy who made the loudest impact," he said. "Just the fact of his organizing the yearly outing without any fanfare or help says a lot. We had so many laughs up there and so many guys reconnected and it’s all because of him. Those memories we will hold forever."

One of Ciolino's former teachers at Notre Dame High School also weighed in about the 1977 alum.

"I spoke to Joe at his father's wake, only months before his own passing," said Ken Parent, who taught and coached at NDHS from 1969 until 2005. "We reminisced about the 'old days' at Notre Dame. I could tell by our conversation that Notre Dame was a special time and place in Joe's life as a teenager. He also was very proud of his role in keeping so many of his classmates in touch with each other through their yearly gathering in Lewiston. He also talked about how especially proud of his daughter and son-in-law's (Ryan Schmuck '03 NDHS) newborn. Despite his business success, people — family and friends — meant everything to Joe. What a humble guy he was!"

Kelly said that while they lost Ciolino last November at such a young age, he's glad the group has decided to keep his legacy alive by continuing to get together for their annual weekend. 

"It's also great that we are raising money to help fund tuition for a deserving student at NDP in Joe’s name," he said. "Joe was just a great guy who had a profound effect on his buddies. I can speak for the rest of the 'fellas' in saying that Joe made you want to be a better man when you were around him. He is missed terribly, but we are all lucky to have known him as our friend."

HONORING JOE CIOLINO: Notre Dame and members of its Class of 1977 are sponsoring a special day on August 28 where classmates and friends of Joe can honor him by donating directly to The Notre Dame Fund's "Mary's Way," which provides financial aid and scholarships to families at Notre Dame. More information on honoring Joe Ciolino, Mary's Way and The Notre Dame Fund is here

Comments or questions? mkelly@ndpma.org.
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About Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy
Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy is a private, Catholic, independent, coeducational day school located in Oakland County. The school's upper division enrolls students in grades nine through twelve and has been named one of the nation's best 50 Catholic high schools (Acton Institute) four times since 2005. Notre Dame's middle and lower divisions enroll students in jr. kindergarten through grade eight. All three divisions are International Baccalaureate "World Schools." NDPMA is conducted by the Marist Fathers and Brothers and is accredited by the Independent Schools Association of the Central States and the North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement. For more on Notre Dame Preparatory School and Marist Academy, visit the school's home page at www.ndpma.org