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- In Season: November 28, 2015 updated
Regular readers of The Rapidian have seen a number of postings from the GAAH Press Club in recent years. The GAAH Press Club was recently renamed the Andy Angelo Press Club in honor of our dear friend and longtime board member who passed away on July 3, 2012.
This tribute to Andy was written by Sue Schroder for GAAH’s December newsletter. It is reprinted here with her permission.
Andy Angelo: His Legacy Lives On
Andy Angelo was a man who looked to tomorrow, planned for it with foresight and vision and worked tirelessly to make a difference.
Angelo, 55, was the longest-serving board member of Grandville Avenue Arts & Humanities, which operates The Cook Library Center and the Cook Arts Center, formerly the Grandville Avenue Neighborhood Library and the Grandville Avenue Academy for the Arts. He became the heart and soul of fund-raising efforts to sustain the two projects.
He was the founding father of Día del Sol and chair of the annual fundraiser that has raised close to $350,000 since its founding in 2002.
This year’s Día del Sol was Andy’s last public event before his death 12 days later from respiratory complications from asthma July 3.
“He was an inspiration to me and to others, both personally and professionally,” said Marjorie Kuipers, executive director of GAAH.
“Andy truly wanted to make the world a better place, and he and Mary worked humbly and unselfishly to make a difference in our corner of the world. Knowing Andy made me want to be a better person,” Kuipers said.
Mary is Mary Angelo, former director of the Roosevelt Park Neighborhood Association (RPNA), who retired this fall after 21 years as director. She and Andy Angelo were married for 18 years, and they were a team in every facet of their lives.
“For him it was a labor of love, not only because of the neighborhood, but because it meant so much to her,” Kuipers said. “Mary was the conduit to his involvement in the neighborhood.
“He really helped build foundations under visions of possibility,” Kuipers said. “He built the foundation for sustainability. Every GAAH volunteer brings something to the table, but the amount of time, the span of years, and how deeply he was involved make Andy unique.”
Mary Angelo recalled that she, Marj [Kuipers] and Sister Kathi Sleziak would come up with ideas, and Andy Angelo was one of her sounding boards.
“Unfortunately for him,” Mary Angelo said with a grin, “because of proximity he was probably my biggest, and most frequent, sounding board.”
“When RPNA was faced with losing its building to the Hall School expansion, Mary and I were doing some brainstorming,” Kuipers said. “We came up with the idea of building a new library and turning the library’s current facility at 1260 Grandville over to RPNA. As much as Mary liked the idea, it did not get any traction until she talked it over with Andy. He thought it was a great idea. We then presented the concept to the RPNA and GAAH boards, and the rest is history.”
The seeds of GAAH were planted in the mid-1990s when the RPNA and the Dominican Sisters-Grand Rapids began working together to improve the lives of the neighborhood children.
Their first project was the Grandville Avenue Neighborhood Library, which opened in 1996. “The RPNA built a building, but Sister Joan Pichette turned it into a library,” Mary said.
For Andy and Mary Angelo, inspiration came in the unexpected, and sometimes, solutions presented themselves during conversations over a glass of wine, or one key evening, vodka and tonics.
That night, Mary Angelo told him about getting into her car to drive five young gang members to a graffiti cover-up project. The tape she had in, Rachmaninoff’s Second Piano Concerto, hit the air. “Check out the music she listens to; you can tell Mary’s rich!” one said to the other.
“I’m telling Andy all this, and saying in frustration, why do people think this music’s not meant for them?” In no time, the genie of the Arts Academy was out of the bottle.
Not long after, Mary received another call from the Dominicans, including Sister Kathi, who wanted to work in the neighborhood. “Sister Kathi had a calling to address the issue of youth violence. I told her about the idea of the Arts Academy and she loved it.”
After a successful capital campaign, the Arts Academy opened in 2001, with Sister Kathi as its first director.
“Andy was a quiet, gentle presence,” Sister Kathi said. “He never seemed to need or want to be in the spotlight. He delighted in the successes of his wife, Mary. In the beginning when the Arts Academy was still a dream, there were a few bumps along the proverbial road: Challenges finding property, working with architects and of course, raising money.
“Andy was always there to calm nerves, give a hug or just listen.” What began as a collaborative community relationship became more like family, she said, including the entire RPNA board in the circle. Sister Kathi is officially family: She is godmother to the Angelos’ granddaughter, Lily.
A quiet man, comfortable working behind the scenes and accustomed to making things happen from there, Andy Angelo spent long hours doing just that, first as metro editor, then news editor for The Grand Rapids Press. He was news editor for Booth Newspapers when he retired in March.
“Whether it was his family, GAAH, or Circle Theatre, his focus was on the people who would be affected by what he did,” Mary Angelo said.
If you didn’t know Andy Angelo, it would be easy to miss him- or underestimate him.
“Most people probably would see this little guy running around through the crowd, and never guess he was in charge of the (Día del Sol) event!” Mary Angelo said.
He did whatever GAAH needed, which once included cutting down brush behind the original library -- and getting his worst case of poison ivy ever. In awe of the many volunteers who worked directly with the children, he left that key contribution to them.
“Every once in awhile, you run into those people who just elevate you. Andy did that,” Kuipers said.
Gandhi put it another way: Be the change you want to see in the world.
Andy Angelo was, and his legacy lives on in the Grandville Avenue neighborhood.
Many thanks to Sue Schroder for this beautiful tribute. A regular columnist with The Grand Rapids Press and MLive Media Group, Sue was Andy’s friend and colleague for more than 25 years.
Our mission is to enrich the lives of neighborhood youth through diverse and engaging programs at the Cook Arts Center and the Cook Library Center.