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Tribute to Dr. John C. Brisini by his daughter, Mary (Brisini) Damin

Dr. John Brisini on the day he was honored at Case Western Reserve as the oldest living player

I never knew anyone quite like my Dad. He was such a unique person. He was ambitious, a very hard worker, and embraced many opportunities. He had numerous interests in his life and many friends; he loved to laugh and above all, was selfless with a huge heart.

I see many snippets of him in my boys because he was such a strong influence in their lives. He was genuine and true, had a passion for life and a passion for those whom he loved. He was emotional and sentimental.


John Camillo Brisini was born June 4, 1923. He was the ninth child for Maria and Camillo. He was the baby. I think that his older sisters doted on him as well, he was like a real life baby doll. Maybe a little spoiled. According to Gramma, he was a bright baby and reached his developmental milestones early.

When he was sent to kindergarten at the little schoolhouse on Scanlan Hill, he would go across the street to the Riminis for lunch. They were his cousins. He would then stay and play with Charlie and not return to school for the afternoon, haha!! He had to repeat that school year.

It is evident that from a young age he had many interests; a willingness to learn; loved to socialize and play with friends; work at the farm; sports, baseball and football. He learned to play sports early, tagging along with his older brothers.

Of course, Scanlan Hill always had pick up games to participate in. He had fond memories of swimming in the swimming hole, playing games like stickball and tag, attending the local football games. He would always talk about the “Moose’ field. He said that they used to crawl under the fence to watch the game. We would ask him what the admission charge was. It was nothing, they just wanted to crawl under the fence. In later years every trip to Portage included him pointing out the Moose field, where it used to be.

My Dad cherished his childhood and loved Scanlan Hill. He considered his home a magical place. He would tell us about the swimming hole and the sandlots. He loved the family farm and developed a love for animals that would continue through his entire life. There was nowhere on earth that compared to Scanlon Hill, in my Dad’s eyes. We always had to make trips to see the property and Lilly mountain.

He met my mother when he was a sophomore in high school and she was a freshman. She was one of the “Price girls” from Portage. They met at a Dairy dance. Ferdinand Bionaz introduced them. From that time until death, they were a couple. He would hitch hike to Portage to visit her. And upon leaving for school etc., they maintained a long distance relationship.

John Brisini on the 1940 Lilly High School Football Team

Education and career

My Dad entertained many ideas about his future, he wanted to be a football coach, a carpenter, a history teacher. But with encouragement from his older brothers, he went into dentistry.

After graduation he enrolled into St Vincent College. He ended up getting a job as the football coach/mentor at the prep school at St. Vincent. This provided room and board for him. He lived at the school that was run by the Benedictine sisters. He and another student who coached lived there and would catch a ride to the campus in the morning with the Priest who came to the prep school to say Mass. He loved nuns and always talked about the delicious sandwiches that they would pack in his lunch made with the seven grain bread. He had a meal called “St. Vincent Steak”; it was the seven grain bread covered with gravy. He never forgot those Sisters and would take groceries to the Nuns and the Carmelite Monastery every holiday.

When the war started, my Dad enlisted in the Navy. He ended up being sent to Villanova. At Villanova he continued his studies and also his love of playing football. He would tell us stories about riding the train to games, talked of the experiences and friends that he made. Not long before he passed away, we made a trip to Villanova and he saw his old dormitory.

When the war ended, he then went onto Western Reserve with his brothers and studied dental science. And once again got to engage in his favorite game, playing football for Western Reserve. He and my Mom married while he was in dental school, and the two lived in Cleveland. That was a special time for them. Spending it together, exploring the Cleveland area. One of their favorites was “ Little Italy,” going there often and enjoying the delicious food. After my Dad graduated from dental school, they returned to Lilly. It was very important for him to be near his family. They took up residence with Gramma and Grandpap until they found a home. Of course, even their first home had a barn, and my Dad quickly filled it with horses. My dad’s first practice was in Nanty-Glo. Then he moved to Ebensburg.

John Brisini loved everyone

He always wanted to help those less fortunate. He was the dentist at the Ebensburg Center and Laurel Crest and the Cambria County Prison. He never charged much for his services and would often be paid with homemade bread, and vegetables. His patients would ask what the cost was, and he would ask how much they could pay. Many never paid. That goodness extended beyond the office. If we would come upon vagrants, he would buy them dinner and oftentimes go home and pack a suitcase for them. Growing up we got used to this and accustomed to him reaching out.

We were raised in a very non-discriminatory home. Anyone from any walk of life was welcome. We never learned to be judgmental or prejudiced. He was kind to everyone. Our home was always full of people and especially our friends. All were welcome. He especially loved to have his family over. He loved his family, adored his parents and siblings. He was always the one who scheduled family gatherings. Every Christmas day the Brisini family would congregate at our house, and my mother would make the traditional calamari. This went on until Gramma got too old to join in.

He never visited Gramma unless he took her a bag of groceries. I remember many times when Gramma got older, and she would call in the middle of the night saying that she didn’t feel well, and he would go. He never complained. He would go and usually Gramma was just anxious. He would visit until she felt better then come home and go to work. Even when my children were small and not feeling well, he would stay up at night and comfort them. I never heard him complain of being tired.

In addition to always being there for those who needed him he also led a very busy life.

He loved his barn and the horses. He always had horses and had great times showing horses. He had many friends in the horse world and was known for having the first quarter horse in the area. He had a trophy room in the house that displayed all of the trophies. We still have the display, but in addition to the horse show trophies, we have added our sports trophies. He loved the barn that he built and always said that is where he felt closest to God. He spent many hours there making improvements and training horses.

He was so knowledgeable about the care of the horse, so much so that the local veterinarian used to call him to treat his horses. He was a natural horseman and trained his animals with the same gentle hand and demeanor.

Other interests

Music was another enjoyment for him. He had a vast collection, mostly the big bands and cowboy artists. On Sundays before lunch, I remember him sitting on the floor choosing what music we would listen to during our meal. He had rigged up a stereo in the barn and would listen to music as he worked. He sang too. Every year at the Horseman’s Banquet he was known for singing along with the band. Mostly Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett. All the members of the Central Pa Horsemen Association wouid look forward to it and still talk about it.

He was an avid reader and read every night before bed. He was very interested in the Civil War and was very knowledgeable about it. He read much about history, Indians, cowboys, and politics. We have kept his library. It will be something that will be cherished by my sons. One time he went on a horseback ride to Gettysburg and gave the tour. People told him that he gave a better tour than the tour guide.

Of course football was one of his biggest loves. He spent many hours watching football. When the boys played, he went to practices and the games. At one point when my oldest was playing varsity and the twins were playing youth league, he would watch the HS practice and then stay and watch the youth practice. The same with baseball. He used to umpire behind the home plate for the games

He was a speaker at a high school football banquet and entertained the boys telling them about the communal water bucket and soft helmets.

He was the “Voice of the Central Cambria Red Devils” announcing games for twenty years.

He followed and knew all the local athletes. The year before he passed he attended all the Portage games, in his wheelchair, to see my cousin’s son play.

Up until he passed he followed the pro athletes. Knew their stats. It was amazing.

When professional baseball started he was glued to the television. The same with football. The winter was not as exciting for him when those seasons were over. He wasn’t a huge fan of basketball, but loved watching and cheering on Villanova.

He was such a humble person. He never bragged about his accomplishments and never thought that he was better than anyone. Even if he knew someone was wrong he would never speak up to correct them. He was quiet that way.

The Brisini boys playing baseball


But what gave him the utmost joy and pride was being a grandfather. He loved my boys unconditionally and would have given them the world if he could have. He was always present and involved in their lives. He and my mother both picked up the slack when Perry and I had other obligations.

He was such a positive influence on my boys. He wanted to be significant in their lives and share his wisdom with them. I see so much of him in them.

In retrospect I must emphatically say that my Dad really enjoyed his life. He loved to have fun and was always busy. He was always up for a road trip whether it was to go and look at a new horse or go to a football game. He was a jokester and loved to laugh. His horse buddies talked about the time that he took a horse into a restaurant for someones party.

He had so many friends from so many walks of life and enjoyed spending time with all of them

Everyday he went to lunch with his political and professional colleagues. They went every day without fail. They would always frequent the local establishments and always said that the food wasn’t great but the conversation was great. Not long before he passed he was reminiscing about it and realized he was the sole survivor of the group.

My Dad did outlive many of his friends and family. However, he endured the aging process with much dignity. When he knew that he could no longer walk but had to be in a wheelchair he made the decision to go to an assisted living facility. I was fortunate to get to have coffee with him every morning for those few years and I cherish those memories. He was so interesting to talk with. We would read the paper and he would make me laugh telling me stories about happenings at the assisted living. He continued to care about his appearance and made sure that he always looked his best.

His passing was so sad for me, We had spent the morning together and returned to the assisted living facility. I left him for the afternoon with the agreement that he would join his friends for dinner. He had just gotten new teeth and he felt that they needed to be adjusted. I set him up with his tools and left.

When I didn’t hear from him I thought that he was okay. I was washing his pajamas and we were going to drop them off later in the evening. What I didn’t know was that he never attended dinner and was never checked on. My dear sweet, loving, caring father was found at 8 p.m. cold on the floor. When they called me and I had to go to his room, I told myself, “Your Dad did not raise a weak daughter,” and I tried to handle the situation with as much dignity as possible and the way my father would have wanted me to.

My Dad had made it clear that he did not want a viewing. He did not want any fanfare. We did not view him, just had a Mass for him. And he is buried with my mother and his parents in St. Brigid’s Cemetery in Lilly.

My boys buried him with belongings that they wanted him to always have. A Physician Assistant Honor Society lapel pin and a Ken Lantzy finest forty watch that was set to 1:43, which means “I love you.” Yes, they inherited his sentimentality.

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