West Hartford resident Lucio Lefante passed away on Oct. 3, 2016, at the age of 47.
By Ronni Newton
Friends and family will gather in West Hartford this weekend to celebrate the life of Lucio Lefante – a life that ended far too soon, but not before Lucio had a chance to make a significant impact on those who had the privilege of knowing him.
Lucio passed away on Monday, Oct. 3, after spending several weeks in hospice at Hebrew Healthcare. Just days before he entered hospice, he rallied and made it to New Haven to celebrate and show his appreciation at the end of the Closer to Free Ride with Team Lefante – a team of his friends and family members that raised more than $16,000 for Smilow Cancer Center.
Lucio was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer on Oct. 17, 2014. I saw him earlier that day at Conard High School when I was reporting on a breakfast celebrating Conard’s National Merit Scholars. He was smiling and proud as he watched his oldest child – his daughter Isabella who was then a senior and was one of the students being honored.
“Lucio did defy the hand he was dealt in so many ways,” his wife, Jane, said. On that day, his doctors said his cancer was terminal, his tumor inoperable. She said he was given three months to live, but lived for nearly two more years, “and he did it so very well, living his life to the fullest and inspiring us all with his grace, courage, and positivity,” Jane said.
The Lefantes have four children – Bella, Sam, Sophia, and Tessa, and although none could ever forget their father, the two oldest now have permanent tributes.
Sam Lefante, Lucio’s only son who is now a senior at Conard, has the Latin words “Ad Exprobrandum De Manu Vestra” tattooed on his left bicep along with a date in Roman numerals: “Defy the hand you are dealt” and his father’s birthday. “You would then always know your dad is giving you strength when you pick up that lacrosse long stick or shoulder burdens throughout your life,” Jane said.
Bella, who completed her first year of college at St. Andrews in Scotland in the spring but remained in West Hartford this fall to be with her father, also has a permanent tribute. Interconnected “L’s” are on on her “violin wrist,” which will inspire her when she creates music just like her dad did before he lost the ability to play, Jane said.
Thanks to their father, Sophia and Tessa both enjoy and have developed a deep appreciation of animals. “Both volunteer at a farm and compete in versatility competitions which Lucio enjoyed attending and cheering the girls on,” said Lucio’s sister, Francesca Lefante Knerr.
Lucio has a large family, and an even larger circle of friends. He drew them in during his life, and they have been drawn together in support for the past two years.
“When I think of Luche, I think of different characteristics based on my friendship with him over the years: family man, perseverance, active, witty, and even-keeled,” said Tim Schulken.
“I don’t think I have ever heard him complain and is up for anything which is why he is so easy going,” said Tim. He recalled a time several years ago when he and several other guys decided to take an evening snowshoe trek to Heublein Tower after a snowstorm. “I called Luche a few hours before to see if he was interested. He has doesn’t usually do this stuff but said sure and ask what did he need. It was hard and cold but he is a good person to have in the group. Doesn’t complain, has a positive outlook and will put some humor into it as well.”
There was a tailgate at Conard last Sunday, organized by the Youngstrom family, and it served as a fundraiser for a scholarship fund in Lucio’s name. “It was so overwhelming to know that in just one afternoon enough money was raised to start these scholarships. It was a group effort and it began with a gathering of old and new friends. He would be so proud – and embarrassed as we know he didn’t like to be the center of attention unless it was because he delivered a good punch line,” Jane said.
The money raised will go to scholarships awarded to several Conard seniors this spring. “All the scholarships will be geared toward things he valued, like the true meaning of athletic excellence which at its core is hard work, humility, and sportsmanship, and academic commitment. Maybe that doesn’t mean you are in the top 5 or 10 or even 50 percent of your class but that you are consistent at doing your best,” said Jane. A scholarship will also be awarded to a senior who has a passion for music and being part of a musical group, she said.
John Hollerbach said he will be deeply missed, and spoke of Lucio’s commitment to sports and his children: “Lucio was an all-star lacrosse player for Western New England College. And a lifetime player. He played his last game in the fall of 2014 but continued to support the game through his remaining hours. While living with cancer he remained extremely active enjoying all of the ‘families activities’ – concerts, swim meets, shopping, movies, and watching Conard lacrosse.” Lucio was also very involved in West Hartford Youth Lacrosse.
I can’t remember when I first met Lucio, but it was more than a decade ago, when both Jane were members of the now disbanded West Hartford Junior Women’s Club. He and my husband coached soccer together at one point, and even though Lucio was more than a foot taller than I am, we were often running partners. I was pretty darn proud when he said I “kicked his butt” on a 17-miler on a hot September day about 10 years ago.
Lucio is wearing his “Old School” shirt in the feature photo. An excerpt from his obituary reads: “He was also proud of being a founding member of the Old School Running Club, and was passionate about hiking and trail running with the ‘fellas.'”
In March 2007, Lucio convinced a group of people – including me and my husband – that it would be a good idea to do an ultra marathon relay. At Lucio’s urging (there were a few margaritas involved, too) “Old School” registered for Reach the Beach. Six months later, 10 of us spent nearly 30 hours (and that didn’t include the drive to and from New Hampshire) in two very stinky SUVs, taking turns running the 207 miles from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach. Without a doubt it was a bonding experience never to be forgotten, and Old School (as an all male team) went back to Reach the Beach for several more years.
“What started as an annual golf outing the Friday before Father’s Day with a great group of friends led to a running team that was aptly named ‘Old School,’ said Steven Baisden, also a founding member and former captain of Old School.
“Lucio and I ran many races together including some with very steep hills like the 100 on 100 in Vermont but our annual favorite by far was Reach the Beach … Lucio was more than just a running partner – he was a great friend. Rest in peace Lucio – you will always live on …. Rock on!” said Steve.
Jane wrote the following on Facebook: “He was a humble and kindhearted man who wanted others to reflect deeply on the options, develop a plan, work diligently, and above all be a source of positive energy. Isabella says his motto would have been ‘make good choices’ as he added that phrase to ‘I love you’ every time the kids left his presence. What an amazing man. He was so funny and compassionate.
“We, his family are so blessed to be the recipients of your love for Lucio, Friends. Thank you deeply. There are not enough ways to express my gratitude for the two years of support. As a mom this outpouring really helps me to think that the kids are getting to know in a deeper way how valued their dad was a person … Hoping to keep this man and his kind heart alive for his children and for us adults who were better for having known him. ”
In addition to his wife and children, Lucio’ survivors include his father Gaetano, his brother Vincenzo and his wife Linda Lefante, and his sister Francesca and her husband Chris Knerr, and many members of his extended family.
Calling hours will be held from 1-5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 9, at Holy Family Retreat Center, 303 Tunxis Rd., West Hartford. A memorial service will be held Monday, Oct. 10, at 10 a.m. at the Holy Family Retreat Center Chapel, with burial following in Fairview Cemetery. In lieu of flowers donations in Lucio’s memory may be made to Lucio Lefante Scholarship Fund c/o United Bank, Attn: Maria C. 102 LaSalle Rd., West Hartford, CT 06107.
For more information or to offer online expressions of sympathy, click here for the full obituary posted by Molloy Funeral Home. Memories, pictures, and other media celebrating Lucio can be found and added to at http://bit.ly/2dgnGRt.
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