By Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, December 23, Milford lost one of its strongest supporters when Bob Connelly, a noted photographer and volunteer in the city, lost his battle with cancer. Mr. Connelly was active in many Milford organizations, but was most especially known for his efforts in support of the Second Street Players.
“Milford lost a great man,” said Mayor Bryan Shupe. “Bob was a man who was not afraid to challenge the status quo, but always showed respect for the men and women he enjoyed challenging. I will always respect his desire to make Milford a better place as he worked tirelessly to do so, whether it was through promoting and creating art, executing construction at the Riverfront Theatre or helping the youth in the is community reach for higher aspirations. He was a man who served his community as a soldier, firefighter, community activist and friend throughout his life. In the short number of years I was fortunate to know him, I could see that his heart was one of a selfless servant for those that needed help or needed a voice. We will miss Bob and will always remember his commitment to helping others perform at their best.”
Mr. Connelly was born in Woodhaven, Queens, New York, the middle child of five children. He was raised by his parents, the late Francis and Marie Zimmerman Connelly, along with his four siblings, Margaret “Peggy” Connelly, Francis “Buddy” Connelly, Theresa Connelly-Baxter and the late James “Jimmy” Connelly. He attended St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Elementary School and graduated from Franklin K. Lane High School in Queens. He was drafted into the United States Army in 1967, serving in the infantry in Vietnam, and was honorably discharged in 1969.
In February 1969, Mr. Connelly married Rosemary Bivetto of Brooklyn, New York. The couple had a son, Christopher Devin, who was born in New York in 1970 and a daughter, Jessica Lynn, who was born in Arizona in 1974. In 1973, Mr. Connelly joined the Tempe Fire Department, where he was a member of the Hazardous Material Team and rose to the rank of Captain. In 1986, the Tempe Rotary Club awarded Mr. Connelly with a Heroism Award. He retired in 1999.
Mr. Connelly earned a Bachelor of Arts with an emphasis in Photography from Arizona State University and later returned to college to get a teaching certificate. He taught photography at Mesa High School in Mesa High School in Mesa, Arizona, for five years after retiring from the fire company. During his teaching career, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for Teachers and spent a month in the Czech and Slovak Republics.
Teaching never left Mr. Connelly’s life as he mentored many others long after leaving the classroom.“I first met Bob as I was finishing my Media Arts degree and had a keen interest in photography,” said April Allyson Abel. “Bob was a great encourager, a fine mentor and became a beloved friend. He saw potential in me as a photographer and helped me refine my art.”
After his death, many people expressed their gratitude to him for providing them with guidance over the years. “I want to thank you for being a leader, a great advisor and becoming a dear friend,” Dwayne Powell of Milford posted on social media. “The wisdom that you have given me over the years will not be in vain. I will continue to strive for what you envisioned here in the Milford community.”
In 2004, the Connelly’s welcomed granddaughter, Kyla, born to their son, Chris, and her mother, Kim Carter. In 2005, the couple sold their home in Phoenix and moved to Italy for two years. The couple spent approximately six months in four different regions of the country – Umbria, Sicily, Veneto and the Amalfi Coast. Mr. Connelly amassed a collection of more than 30,000 photographs while Mrs. Connelly captured the scenery and experiences through her watercolor paintings.
In 2007, the couple relocated to Milford and immersed themselves into their new community. Mr. Connelly volunteered for the Mispillion Art League, the Bug and Bud Committee and Downtown Milford, Inc. Mr. Connelly became well-known through his volunteer efforts and his dedication to improving his adopted hometown.
In 2012, Mr. Connelly joined the Board of Directors for the Second Street Players, working with his friend, Dan Marabello, on the Building Committee. During renovations of the bathrooms in the rear of the building, they discovered water in the basement and timbers below the floor that were rotted to the point that there was concern that the building could collapse. Mr. Connelly was instrumental in securing a sizeable grant from the Longwood Foundation that enabled the theater group to halt the seepage of water from the adjacent Mispillion River into the building.
“We were both recent residents of Milford, but we had a connection as we were both from New York City,” Mr. Marabello said. “When we started working on the theater, our friendship solidified. As his wife, Rosemary, always liked to say Bob was a “no nonsense get it done kind of guy’ and I saw that first hand. We worked side-by-side, repairing structural problems, fixing a broken main HVAC system, water removal in the crawlspace, the bathrooms and repairing the front awning. But, it was Bob who helped us get donations, grants and other funding so the theater could make these repairs without going into debt.” Mr. Marabello said that he and Mr. Connelly worked long, hard hours on the theater and that they trusted each other totally. He said that whenever the two men were together, whether in friendship or working, there was fun and laughter.
Mr. Connelly was also instrumental in securing funding to install a projector and screen that would allow the theater group to show movies when there was not a live performance planned. The Movies at River Front Theater (MART) offers both English and Spanish versions of movies on weekends throughout the year.
Mr. Marabello said that Mr. Connelly epitomized trust, loyalty, faithfulness and integrity. He said that Mr. Connelly did everything with passion and that he talked very lovingly about his children, his grandchild and his wife, Rosemary. “He often credited Rosemary with making his life wonderful,” Mr. Marabello said. “Bob and I worked on so many projects. I had hoped to do many more with him. Every project complete where he would have been by my side, I will think of him. I will see all the things that he accomplished every time I enter the theater. I am appreciative of every moment I spent with Bob and his loss brings me profound sorrow.”
On December 19, 2015, the Connelly’s held a birthday celebration for Mr. Connelly, whose 68th birthday was December 24. It was Mr. Connelly’s wish to enjoy the birthday celebration rather than a traditional funeral memorial service. The family announced that, per Mr. Connelly’s wishes, there would be no memorial service or funeral and expressed their appreciation for the outpouring of love and sympathy in the loss of Mr. Connelly.
The family has also requested, in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Second Street Players Lobby Expansion Project, a project that Mr. Connelly was deeply committed to as he felt it as greatly needed. Donations may be sent to Dan Marabello, Treasurer, Riverfront Theater, P.O. Box 470, 2 S. Walnut Street, Milford, DE 19963. More information about the project may be found at www.secondstreetplayers.com.