"You'll never meet another man like him."
That was how RO Foundation co-founder Margaret "Maggie" Owen summed up the life of her fellow co-founder Joseph C. Russo Jr. of Fredonia. Russo, 60, passed away Tuesday at Buffalo General Hospital after an extended illness.
Many remember Russo as a selfless, charitable man who put others' needs before his own. He and Owen founded the RO Foundation in 2010, a popular, local not-for-profit intended to assist patients and their families with unexpected travel expenses incurred from visiting treatment centers for long-term illnesses.
Joseph Russo was co-founder of the RO Foundation.
To date, the organization has given away tens of thousands of dollars to help more than 100 patients.
"Joe had gone through his own medical issues originally with his kidneys," Owen said on the topic of the foundation's beginning. "His wife was going back and forth to Cleveland Clinic and it was expensive. Both my parents had illnesses and I was going back and forth to Buffalo with my father and to Pittsburgh with my mother. Joe and I started our first benefit together for his nephew, and that was the first Shake on the Lake fundraiser. After that, we worked so well together, he goes, 'Let's start a foundation of helping people.'"
Owen remembered Russo as an "amazing man that never stopped."
"It's a huge loss to his family, to myself and to the community," she said. "He had a vision and he asked me to be on board and I said, 'Absolutely, let's do this.' I can only hope I can do as much as he did.
Even when he was ill, he was doing everything he could to help somebody else."
Owen added the RO Foundation has been a huge success thus far, and she hopes to continue that success.
"I will do it as long as I'm on this earth; I will carry on his dream," she said.
Russo's sister, Lynda Russo Smith, wished to thank the community for the outpouring of support her family has seen since the loss of her brother.
"Thank you, each and every one of you, for all the comforting words at this time," she wrote on Facebook. "I can't express the heartfelt comfort it brings to know that we are blessed with amazing friends. Thank you from the Russo family!"
Fredonia Mayor Stephen Keefe proclaimed this Monday as Joseph Russo Day in the village.
"Joe has gone above and beyond any expectations of anyone, as far as the needs of the community," he said. "Here's a gentleman that was very ill, and even through his illness, he worked for other people that were having medical problems.
"He's done all these things to raise money to help people pay for their expenses with medical emergencies. A man that was in his own suffering that did so much for other people deserves to be recognized."
Keefe reflected on one time he witnessed Russo's charitable nature.
"I know one time I was going over to get some blood work at the hospital, and there's Joe sitting in a wheelchair connected up to IV's, and a couple days later, I saw him out working with another organization raising money to help out somebody else," he said. "It's that spirit of going above and beyond; he was more concerned with what other people were going through."
The RO Foundation has also donated to other organizations, including Relay for Life, Brooks Memorial Hospital's dialysis unit, Huntington's Foundation and Chautauqua County Rural Ministry.
Calling hours for Russo will be held today from 4-8 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Larson-Timko Funeral Home, 20 Central Ave., Fredonia, where a funeral service will follow immediately at 1 p.m. A private interment in Forest Hill Cemetery will be held at the convenience of the family.
Memorial contributions may be made to the RO Foundation in care of the Northern Chautauqua Community Foundation, 212 Lake Shore Drive West, Dunkirk, NY 14048. The RO Foundation is a fund of NCCF.
"Joe was an amazing individual. Creative and energetic, he had great ideas when it came to fundraising and events," NCCF Executive Director Diane Hannum said. "Ask anyone who ever attended one of the RO Foundation's events; they are a ball! Joe's legacy will live on through the RO Foundation Endowment. Years from now, the fund will be supporting those in need thanks to his incredible passion for helping others."
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