DeStefano took pride in Follansbee
FOLLANSBEE — Colleagues, friends and family are mourning the loss of a long-time city leader following the death of John DeStefano.
DeStefano, who was in his 16th year as Follansbee’s city manager, died Monday after battling COVID-19 for several weeks.
A graduate of Brooke High School and West Liberty University, where he earned a degree in business administration and political science, DeStefano had worked as a Prudential insurance agent for 15 years and as a salesman for Banner Fibreboard in Wellsburg for eight years.
He had been the city’s 5th Ward councilman for 16 years when he resigned to take the city manager position.
Third Ward Councilwoman Kathy Santoro and Councilman at large John Casinelli said the city benefited from DeStefano’s knowledge of the city, having been born and raised there, and from his financial expertise.
At times when others suggested depleting the city’s Urban Development Action Grant fund, established with in lieu of tax payments made by the former Wheeling-Nisshin, for large projects, DeStefano pushed for its preservation.
Casinelli said through that position and other measures, DeStefano ensured continued funding for many city services.
“The city is on a good financial footing because of things John did and oversaw,” he said.
With council’s support, DeStefano also worked to have the city included in the state’s Home Rule pilot program, enabling council to adopt a 1 percent sales tax that generates $150,000 for street paving,$50,000 for the planned renovation and expansion of the city’s fire station and $38,000 for other expenses.
“Who would think that 1 percent would make that much difference, but it does,” said Santoro.
But DeStefano’s efforts extended beyond generating revenue for the city. During his tenure he oversaw cleanup efforts following major floods in 2004 and 2016 and assisted neighboring communities with their own cleanups.
Former Wellsburg mayor Steve Mitchell recalled that following the 2004 flood, DeStefano sent city crews, a garbage truck, backhoe and other equipment to help with cleanup efforts in his city.
“During the flood Follansbee was a godsend to Wellsburg. And John was a big part of that,” Mitchell said, adding, “John was one of those guys who would call and say,what do you need?”
At the time DeStefano said that was what neighbors do and had Follansbee needed Wellsburg’s help, the city would have done the same.
Santoro said from major renovations to the city’s baseball field to banners along Main Street honoring the city’s veterans, DeStefano took pride in Follansbee.
“He was proud of Follansbee, where it it and where we’re going. Everything,” she said.
Mayor David Velegol Jr. noted DeStefano also was active in the West Virginia Municipal League, an organization of city officials who network to share common concerns and ideas.
He added that in addition to serving as president and in other offices for that organization, DeStefano was selected to represent West Virginia on the nominating committee for the executive board of the International City Managers Association.
“From being councilman to city manager, John had a great run in city politics. He’s had a storied career,” said Velegol.
Many recalled DeStefano’s love for his family, noting he took time from work to attend the college sports events in which his two daughters participated; and spend time in more recent years with his grandchildren.
“The biggest thing about him was his love for his family: his wife, daughters and grandchildren,” said Velegol, who called for a special meeting at 5 p.m. today to discuss how best to honor DeStefano.
Mullenbach Funeral Home has scheduled visitation for DeStefano on Thursday, with a Funeral Liturgy with Mass to be celebrated on Saturday at St. Anthony Catholic Church, where he was a member. Attendees are encouraged to wear masks and practice social distancing.
Casinelli said DeStefano’ absence will be felt for a long time.
“It’s going to take a toll on Follansbee, not having him around. He was a good, all-around guy,” he said.
(Scott can be contacted at email@example.com.)