John Rizzo

June 26, 1932 - March 23, 2016
Plainwell, MI



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Otsego, MI 49078
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Life Story / Obituary


John R. Rizzo, of Plainwell, passed away on Wednesday, March 23, 2016 at the age of 83. John was born on June 26, 1932 in the Bronx, NY and spent his formative years in Valley Stream, NY. He was the son of George and Stella (Boccalino) Rizzo.

John is survived by his wife of 23 years, Gayleen Rollins; three children: Kimberly (William) Brock, of Lowell; Renee (Frank) Amodeo, of Grand Rapids; James (Heather) Rizzo, of Madison, WI; eight grandchildren (in order of appearance): Alexander Brock, Sophia Amodeo, Samantha (William) Smith, Hannah Amodeo, Griffen Rizzo, Mia Amodeo, Grant Rizzo, Karl Rizzo, and Isobel Rizzo; and one great grandson Canaan Smith. John is also survived by his daughter–in-law: Andrea Beall-Rizzo, of Park Ridge, IL; three siblings: Concetta “Tina” Smalley, of NY; Veronica “Vee” Kelly, of Kalamazoo; and George (Barbara) Rizzo, of NM; and several nieces and nephews. He is preceded in death by his son: Mark Rizzo in 2012.

John went to high school at Valley Stream Central, wrestled on the varsity team, and made extra money through junior high and high school caddying at the Seawane Country Club in Hewlett, NY. He also had a paper route, set pins at the local bowling alley, and helped the Krug Bakery deliveryman run his route. After high school, John worked at Sid Harvey’s (a heating and air conditioning company), a job he didn’t particularly like. John joined his Uncle Nick’s National Guard unit as the Korean war was beginning. He received a draft notice and, during his one year deferment, he enrolled in a ballistic meteorology school at Fort Sill, OK. Uncle Nick helped get him promoted to Staff Sergeant in the Guard, and he entered full time service as an enlistee with some stripes and a military specialty. John served in Korea from June of 1954 to September of 1955 (after the worst of the conflict was over) sending hot air balloons up to collect ballistic data for the artillery units. After his discharge in the fall of 1955, John took advantage of the GI Bill by attending Hofstra College on Long Island. He then adventured on to Boulder, Colorado to attend Colorado University. It was there that he met Merlene Moody and they were married. While still a student, John worked as a waiter, bartender, soda jerk, short-order cook and floor refinisher to support his new family. Arriving back in NY with a wife, a baby girl, and a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Economics, with a minor in Business, he found jobs scarce and so applied for PhD programs in Industrial Psychology. He ended up at Ohio State, graduating in 1964. His first job was with the U.S. Public Health Service in Washington, D.C. in personnel research. He was recruited by George Washington University and began his career in academics. He taught at University of Maryland, led seminars on library administration, consulted, and published text books on library management and organizational behavior. He itched to leave the power, politics, and urban environment of D.C. and took a position at Western Michigan University where he finished his career after 27 years there.

On December 18, 1992, John married Gayleen Rollins and they purchased a home in Plainwell, MI. After retirement, he and Gayleen owned and operated Flying Cloud Alpacas for many years, raising, breeding and showing prize-winning Alpacas. He enjoyed, and was very gifted at, gardening throughout his life, as well as being an accomplished watercolorist. He also loved fishing and spent many happy hours on his bass boat with Gayleen and his friends, children, and grandchildren. John’s love of good food was cultivated in his childhood. His father was very particular about the quality of the food that was selected for his family and his mother was a good cook. John became an excellent cook and passed that skill and passion on to his children and grandchildren. His sense of humor is something everyone who met him will remember. He loved to tease and was a master at humorous wordplay – an outlet for his sharp wit.

In later life, John chose to learn and practice Buddhism. In his words, “It treats you as responsible, human, and adult and shows you ways to handle your own suffering and good, and works toward alleviating the suffering in others. Nothing to worship, only teachers and mythical deities to thank for their guidance.” He also says that, “The good things that Christianity asks you to be and do are found in Buddhism as well.” He embraced the spirituality and the “positive force toward inner peace and interpersonal understanding and acceptance.” Meditation and study of this philosophy gave him great peace and satisfaction and challenged his incredible mind.

John suffered from dementia in the last few years of his life. Losing his intellect was devastating for him and having the stroke in his last days compounded that suffering. His family takes comfort that he is now at peace.

The family will be having a private memorial gathering at a later date.

Please visit John’s webpage at where you can read his life story, sign the guestbook, and share a memory and/or photo. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the charity of one’s choice. If flowers are desired, the florist can contact Life Story Funeral Home for delivery instructions.

The family is being assisted by the Life Story Funeral Home, 120 S. Woodhams, Plainwell (269-685-5881).