By Elise Franco
The legacy of a beloved Austintown teacher lives on, due, in part, to a scholarship for students who want to follow in his footsteps.
When Anthony Zoccali, 55, died of cancer in 1999, it was a blow to not only his friends and family but to the students he’d taught over a 30-year career.
After an outpouring of support from former students, his son Mike Zoccali decided he wanted to create a scholarship fund in his father’s name.
“I recall when my father passed, my mom received numerous letters from past students about how much they enjoyed his class and the impact that he had on their lives,” he said. “I think that ... is the main reason why we started this scholarship.”
Zoccali, 34, said in 2007 he and a family friend, Dr. James Shina of Austintown, set up the Anthony “Zoc” Zoccali Memorial Fund, and in its first year awarded one student $1,500 for college.
In 2009, they began awarding two scholarships each year, and since its inception, Zoccali said eight students have received $16,000 to help with higher education.
“My driving force in all of this was to carry on my dad’s legacy ... and help students,” he said.
Shina, who runs an internal-medicine practice in Austintown and is the event sponsor, said his involvement in the scholarship was a no-brainer.
“There was a group of us who were friends for a very long time,” he said. “[Anthony Zoccali’s] untimely passing really shook us at our core.”
Shina said it was important that even after his death, Anthony Zoccali continued to help students. Shina said the scholarship accomplishes that goal.
“It’s one of those situations where his name should [live] on whether he’s on this earth or not,” he said.
Mike Zoccali, who has been with Austintown schools for 11 years, said his father inspired him to become a teacher, just like he inspired so many of the students he left behind.
“Growing up I saw the impact my father had on many of his students,” he said. “I saw how much he enjoyed his profession and thought it was something I would like to get into.”
Zoccali said to qualify for the scholarship, students must maintain a minimum 3.0 grade-point average and declare a major in education at the college or university of their choice.
He said each applicant also is required to submit an essay discussing why they want to become a teacher.
“We have a committee that picks the scholarship winners comprised of my two older brothers, John and Anthony, and Dr. Shina,” Zoccali said.
Mary Beth McGlynn, Austintown Fitch’s senior guidance counselor, said Fitch awards about $75,000 per year in local and private scholarships, such as the AZZ Fund.
She said though each individual scholarship may not seem like a lot, every bit helps.
“These kids can’t get there by themselves. ... Every dollar the child earns is a help,” she said. “Probably for some kids it may be the only pat on the back they get.”
McGlynn said to keep things fair, applications are numbered so donors don’t know their names until they make a final selection.
“We try and spread as much of the money out as possible, but it really comes down to who fits the mold for what the scholarship represents,” she said.
Zoccali said he’ll announce this year’s two recipients at Fitch’s scholarship ceremony in May.
The annual fundraiser golf outing is scheduled for Aug. 11 at Knoll Run Golf Course in Lowellville.
“It’s grown to be much bigger than I expected, and I’m so grateful for it,” he said.