James A. Colonna, 89, of Selinsgrove, formerly of Punxsutawney, passed away on Tuesday, March 2 at his home after a long illness. Jim was born June 13, 1931 in Kittanning, a son of the late James V. and Maria (Mazza) Colonna. On July 19, 1969, he married Ruth E. Kerr. He was a parishioner at Saints Cosmas and Damian Roman Catholic Church in Punxsutawney where he served as a cantor and choir member. Most recently he attended St. Pius X Catholic Church in Selinsgrove. Jim was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War and served in the Anti-Aircraft Corp in Pittsburgh.
He graduated from St. Vincent College in 1956 and earned his Master’s degree in music from Duquesne University. He had a distinguished career of 37 years as the Band Director and Music Department chair at Punxsutawney Area High School where he was a teacher of well over a thousand students and a second father to many. He took his students to perform at the World’s fair in NYC and several times to Walt Disney World. Perhaps his proudest moment was having his band selected to perform at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts for a 4th of July concert in Washington DC. Jim retired in 1993 with a concert in Barclays Square attended by more than 1,000 well-wishers.
He will be remembered as an amazing and loving husband, father, grandfather, a champion of music education, and a dedicated teacher and mentor. In addition to his wife Ruth of 51 years, Jim is survived by four children and their families: Jim Colonna and his wife Chrissy of Dover, PA; Kimberly Colonna of Harrisburg, PA; Colleen Wentz and her husband Ed of Selinsgrove, PA; and Corry Colonna of Long Beach, CA. Additionally, he is survived by six beautiful grandchildren, Abigail and Anthony Colonna and Alexandra, Zachary, Isabella, and Aubrianne Wentz; he is also survived by his sister, Jeanette Schmidt and family of Butler, PA.
A private funeral mass was held at St. Pius X Catholic Church, Selinsgrove with Father Tukura Pius Michael OP as celebrant. Private interment with military honors accorded by the Jefferson Co. Veteran’s Honorguard will be held in Calvary Cemetery, Punxsutawney. The family anticipates hosting a celebration of Jim’s life this summer. In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts may be made to the Colonna Family Scholarship at St. Vincent College, 300 Fraser Purchase Rd. Latrobe, PA 15650. Arrangements were by the V.L. Seebold Funeral Home, 601 N. High St., Selinsgrove.
Classmates Remember James Colonna.
From Max Clark:
Thanks for the message about Mr. Colonna. I never realized he was only 11 years older than us, when we were in High School. He had quite a career as band director, and was following in his father’s footsteps as a band director. I had a lot of respect for him. Max
From Andrea Hicks:
Always so kind to me.
From David Long:
Thanks for sharing this about Jim Colonna. Another of many outstanding role models for our generation.
From Bill Chelgren:
I have often wondered where he was and how he was doing. I didn’t realize he had done all those things with different Punxsy bands. I remember making a recording when I was in band and it was done on an LP record. I wish now that I had not gotten rid of it
From Carol Grossman Savas:
He had an amazing full life. What a treat it was for me to visit with him at the 55th. Great guy too.
From Nance Finley:
I played trumpet in Jr. High, We had to play an instrument before you could try out for a majorette which I did in Sr. High!
From Jerry Popovice:
RIP, Mr. Colonna, RIP!
From Harry Fletcher:
In our wonderful Lord,
Reprinted in full from the DuBois, Pa., Courier-Express, July 2, 2021. Alex Nelson, reporter.
PUNXSUTAWNEY — A group of Punxsutawney Area High School graduates has been working for months to have the high school auditorium named in honor of James A. Colonna, a previous band instructor of the school district. Colonna was a former PAHS band director and music department chair who died March 2 this year. He taught for 37 years at PAHS, from 1956 to 1993, when he retired. His retirement was marked by a concert in Barclay Square that was attended by more than 1,000 well-wishers.
The Punxsutawney Area School Board was approached in May about renaming the high school auditorium in honor of Colonna, and approved the change.
Mr. Colonna set the standard for music education across Western Pennsylvania. I respectfully propose that the Punxsutawney Area School District respectfully consider naming the auditorium at PAHS the James A. Colonna Memorial Auditorium. The growth and success of the band program he built is well documented by the recordings of numerous band concerts during his tenure, and more importantly by the achievements of the hundreds of students who were blessed by time and circumstances to benefit from his inspirational tutelage. I am personally grateful to be among that number, said Scott Cressley in his letter to the board.
Cressley said he was approached by classmate Bill Rankin with the idea, and a group began the work to make it happen. Cressley wrote the initial letter to the school board requesting the naming.
I am hopeful that you are able to acknowledge the profound influence and contributions Mr. James A. Colonna made to the students of the Punxsutawney Area School District and the community at large. Teachers of this magnitude do not often grace a small town for such a lengthy duration. I believe naming the auditorium is a lasting and fitting gesture to recognize someone who made such a positive and consistent impact on the lives of students for such a long time, Cressley said in the letter.
The school board approved this naming, sending the project forward. From there, the board said it was up to the private group to raise the money for signage of the auditorium, showcasing the name.
To date the group has raised $6,835, which is for the cost of signage. Any extra money left after signage has been purchased will be donated to the Punxsutawney band program. The school district has a policy for renaming facilities, to ensure the lettering or signage used is uniform. The group has been provided with specifications by the district that are expected to be met. Maintenance Supervisor Carmen Gett said he would like to see the same cast aluminum letters that are on the buildings now.
They have to cover the costs, we don’t cover any costs of that. That includes installation, that includes everything,” said Cindy Depp-Hutchinson, board president. “I don’t think they’ll have a problem raising the money.
If anyone would still like to donate, checks should be made payable to Achille Law, PC, notated with
Colonna so they are deposited appropriately. Donations can be mailed to Joseph H. Ellermeyer, Esquire, Achille Law P.C. 379 Main Street, Brookville 15825. Ellermeyer is among the group who is working on the renaming.
There will also be a celebration of Colonna’s life held Saturday at Gobbler’s Knob at from 1 to 3 p.m. with many of his family, friends, and former students attending.