Terry Ranieri, beloved Hempfield community member, dies at age 64
Terry Ranieri, a beloved Hempfield community member, died Thursday, according to his brother, Tony Ranieri.
Terry, who graduated from Hempfield Area School District in 1975, attended home football games regularly in the decades since, greeting fans at games while watching the band warm up for their halftime show or offering up some of his classic “Terryisms” — such as “jammin’ like Route 30” and “cool like whip.”
“He had very few words over the last couple of days, but some of his last words … were ‘thank you.’ He could barely speak, and he said, ‘Thank you. I love you all,’ ” Tony Ranieri said. “And he would say that all the time.
“I know these people probably didn’t hear that that often, and I hope we can all learn from him the true meaning of love. We always should express it more often and tell people we love them like he did. And he told people he didn’t even know he loved them, and he meant it.”
Terry, 64, had been diagnosed with cancer and had come home to hospice care Monday after health problems forced him to spend weeks in the hospital, first at Excela Westmoreland in Greensburg and then at UPMC Montefiore in Pittsburgh’s Oakland neighborhood.
He had a developmental disorder called Williams syndrome which is marked by unique personality characteristics and distinctive facial features, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Cindy Booley met Ranieri when they were classmates at West Hempfield Junior High School. He was well-liked even then, and that’s when his “Terry-isms” seemed to start, Booley said.
“He used to say so many more,” she said.
Ranieri got a standing ovation at their 1975 high school graduation ceremony. Tom Blank, a former Hempfield resident, said he also graduated with Ranieri, adding: “When he walked across that stage, it was the longest and loudest ovation of the night.”
Blank added that people in their graduating class protected him because he did not have a “mean bone in his body. Everything about him was about the good things in life.”
Booley said she would see him occasionally in the decades since, including more recently at a church festival in Jeannette a few years ago where they ate together.
Growing up in Jeannette, Valerie Comito remembers seeing Ranieri when she worked at a toy store at the former Greengate Mall.
“He was just a fixture, I saw him everywhere I went,” Comito said.
As an adult, Comito’s family moved to Hempfield and her son and daughter joined the band where they got to know him, too.
“They grew up with him … knowing who he was,” Comito said. “He waved at everybody. He was a good lesson to teach the kids — he’s just a smiling, friendly face that wants to know you.”
Ranieri would also spend time at Westmoreland Mall, where Maria Lee met him while working at Rue 21 a few years ago after graduating from Yough High School in 2013. He could be found hanging out in the food court and socializing with everyone there, she said.
All the teenagers who frequented the mall for work or otherwise enjoyed his company, Lee said.
“He knew everyone,” she said.
Of course, they’d all be greeted with one of Ranieri’s “Terry-isms.” Now a college student, Lee always kept an eye out for him when she visited the mall in more recent years, but hadn’t seen him in awhile.
“He was such a positive person; he always had a smile on his face,” she said.
Booley agreed, adding that simply knowing Ranieri was a lesson in treating others with kindness.
“Everyone should be nice no matter what,” she said. “He has a very good soul … he was always smiling.
“Treating him the way people did went down from generation to generation,” she said.
Almost 100 members of the Hempfield marching band showed that kindness Tuesday when they were quick to welcome him back to his Beacon Valley Road home, where he sat at a front window and listened from inside.
Hempfield Area band director Brian Tychinski said, “For decades, Terry Ranieri held a special place in the hearts of our band members. While we are saddened by his passing, we will try to pass on the joy which he brought to so many of us through our music. Our thoughts and prayers are with Terry and his family at this difficult time.”
Tony Ranieri expressed nothing but gratitude for the band’s actions this week, saying, “It was the best thing for him and for us, and I think for the band to be able to come like that; that’s the most aware that he has been, and I think it was pretty fitting.”
Hempfield Area Superintendent Tammy Wolicki said officials are planning a memorial during Friday’s football game against Greensburg Salem. She added that the band is planning to play Amazing Grace followed by a moment of silence. Students are planning a white out in his memory.
“We’re deeply saddened by his passing and certainly he will be greatly missed,” Wolicki said.
Tony Ranieri said the family has plans to create T-shirts that will raise money for a scholarship fund for the band.
“He was so special, so it’s been difficult, but the outpouring of love made us realize what an impact he’s had,” Tony Ranieri said. “My phone’s blowing up with people calling and texting … and it’s all because they loved Terry.”
Lee expects that popularity to continue posthumously, saying, “I definitely think there’s going to be a very long line” at his funeral.
Tentative funeral plans have been discussed, but the family has not announced official plans at this time, Tony Ranieri said. Hempfield supervisors plan on giving a proclamation for Terry during Monday’s public meeting.