YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (MyValleyTributes) – Judge Joseph Donofrio passed away peacefully on Wednesday, April 15, at Mercy Health–St. Elizabeth Hospital after a ten-day battle with COVID-19.
He was born on September 26, 1925, in Pietrabbondante, Italy, son of the late Antonio and Carmella Donofrio. He came to the United States at the age of four.
Judge Donofrio graduated from East High School on June 6, 1944, the same day as D-Day, the Invasion of Normandy. He joined the U.S. Army Air Forces shortly thereafter, serving as a radio operator in the South Pacific.
He worked on the Erie Railroad while attending Youngstown College where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration and a Juris Doctorate Degree.
In 1955, Judge Donofrio began his law practice; in 1959, he served as Assistant City Prosecutor for the City of Youngstown and in 1964, he became Chief Prosecutor. A year later, he was elected to the Youngstown Municipal Court. While serving his second elected term, Judge Donofrio was appointed to the Seventh District Court of Appeals by then governor John J. Gilligan. He served on the Court of Appeals until his retirement in 1992, while occasionally sitting on the Supreme Court of Ohio by assignment of the Chief Justice. Judge Donofrio also taught 24 years as an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Criminal Justice at Youngstown State University (YSU).
Throughout his career, Judge Donofrio accomplished a great deal and received several awards that recognized his tireless work to improve the human condition. In 1966, he started a court honor class in which people arrested for intoxication could agree to seek help through Alcoholics Anonymous. Judge Donofrio was instrumental in establishing a program in Mahoning County for people dealing with alcoholism. Through this program, the Donofrio Home halfway house was opened in 1968. The Donofrio Recovery Centers continue their work through Meridian HealthCare, which took over their vital services.
Judge Donofrio was past chairman and board member of what later became the Mahoning County Mental Health and Recovery Board and Mahoning County Board of Developmental Disabilities. He was instrumental in establishing the mental health officer post in the Youngstown Police Department to screen those with mental illness and those with an addiction in need of medical attention.
In 1973, Judge Donofrio received the Ohio Supreme Court Award for Judicial Excellence and in 1989 was elected Chief Justice of the Ohio Courts of Appeals. In 2007, he received the Valley Leadership Award and Valley Impact Award. During his life, he was named Italian Man of the Year by the Greater Youngstown Italian Fest and inducted into the Mahoning County Democratic Hall of Fame and Knights of Columbus Hall of Fame.
Joseph served on many committees and was a member of several organizations, including the Ohio State and Mahoning County bar associations, Sons of Italy, Knights of Columbus, Wolves Club, Penguin Club of YSU, Pacentrano Club, and Youngstown Opera Guild. He was an Alpha Phi Delta and YSU alumnus and a parishioner of St. Christine Church. Joseph was also active with the Youngstown Cursillo.
Joe touched many lives with his kind, gentle, and generous spirit. He had a zest for life and enjoyed numerous hobbies. He was an avid reader, a skilled woodworker and a lover of all kinds of music. He attended weekly art sessions where he painted beautiful landscapes, which he gave to family and friends. Joe enjoyed being outside and spending time in his greenhouse where he would start his garden each year from seeds. He always said that he felt closest to God when in his garden. He was passionate about cooking and baking, with many of his dishes having roots in his Italian heritage. His grandchildren treasured going to his home to learn to make bread, cavatelli and pizza and to can hot peppers. Joe loved meeting his lunch group of 55 years every Friday and their monthly birthday celebrations. He was a lifelong fan of the Cleveland Browns and the YSU Penguins and was happiest when spending time with family and friends, enjoying conversation and sharing food.
To cherish his memory, he leaves his wife, the former Angela C. Neri whom he married on May 3, 1952; his sons, Judge Gene (Janet) Donofrio and Judge Anthony (Cheri) Donofrio; his daughters, Dr. Joanne Franks (Howie Edwards) and Judy (Mario) Ricciardi; ten grandchildren, Barry (Amanda) Franks, Aaron (Jill) Franks, Lindsay Donofrio, Jenna (Ryan) Buck, Carly (David) Brown, Mario Ricciardi, Mark Ricciardi, Carmella Donofrio, Gina Ricciardi and Joseph Donofrio and six great-grandchildren, Lawson, Zarick, Lennox, Zoey, Jacquelyn and Nova Angela. He also leaves to cherish his memory many nephews, nieces, cousins and friends whom he loved dearly.
Joseph was preceded in death by his father, mother and brother Geno.
Arrangements are entrusted to Rossi Bros. & Lellio Funeral Home.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a private funeral service was held. A Mass of Celebration in honor of Joseph’s life will be held at a future date.
The family would like to thank Dr. Bigdeli and all of the other courageous healthcare workers at Mercy Health ICU. Thanks also to Drs. Enyeart and Demidovich and all the other wonderful doctors for their care over his lifetime.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the YSU Foundation’s Judge Joseph Donofrio Scholarship Fund, 655 Wick Avenue, Youngstown, OH 44502, or online at www.ysufoundation.org, designating Judge Joseph Donofrio Scholarship Fund.
Please visit www.rossifunerals.com to send condolences online to Joseph’s family.
To plant a memorial tree in honor of Judge Joseph Donofrio, please visit our Heartfelt Sympathies Store.
A television tribute will air Sunday, April 26, at the following approximate times: 8:58 a.m. on FOX and 9:58 p.m. on MyYTV.