John Tucci exudes passion for God, country in the Sewickley Valley

Monday, September 24, 2018 | 8:33 AM

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part of the continuing series Sewickley Valley Originals where we profile the people making a difference in the Sewickley Area.

Who: John Tucci, 54, Aleppo

Nominated by: Michelle Denk, of Sewickley, who emailed this: “Mr. Tucci is the true definition of the word ‘gentleman’ … He makes everyone in the community feel like they *belong* and in his own special way, he reminds us that indeed we are all part of a very blessed community. He does this by being a greeter at Quaker Valley extracurricular events (Mr. Vallenzi’s middle and high school plays, choral concerts, etc.) as well as attending sport events to open the game in a patriotic way by bringing American flags for each of the children to hold while he sings ‘America the Beautiful’ or the national anthem, always with a reminder message of the sacrifices made by our military people for the freedoms we have which is why we respect the flag, as well as to remind the kids to realize the daily work within our community (First responders and parents) so that these games could be enjoyed peacefully.”

John Tucci spreads his arms wide, closes his eyes, drops down on a knee and pours his entire heart into the national anthem. It’s enough to send chills even through the youngest attendees at a Little League game.

Ballplayers nearby line the field, waving American flags — ones that Tucci distributed to the crowd with the help of the kids just moments prior. They honor first responders and celebrate the United States of America before it’s time to play ball.

“He is a great person,” said Andrew Denk, 12, a sixth-grader at Quaker Valley Middle School, who gets excited every time Tucci shows up at one of his games. “It’s just so amazing to think that we’re so blessed to have him here.”

Tucci, 54, of Aleppo, has dedicated his life to serving others and God. He tries to find anyway possible to make people smile and help them when they’re in need.

Singing at thousands of athletic events each year across Western Pennsylvania, from T-ball games to college games at Robert Morris University, is just another way he tries to spread love, joy and kindness to others. He’s even sang at a Pittsburgh Pirates game and the Three Rivers Regatta.

“My whole mission in life is to bring love and kindness and compassion to people,” Tucci said from the chapel at Robert Morris University, where he has worked for 25 years as a utility groundskeeper, taking care of the flower beds, sidewalks and driveways. “Everything I do is for the holiness of God.”

Tucci, a 1981 Quaker Valley High School graduate, still lives in Aleppo in the house where he was raised. He credits the way he lives his life to his family, the community and St. James parish, where he is highly involved as a volunteer.

“The whole community has so much love in it,” he said.

That stayed with him.

Tucci first began helping others more than 40 years ago through St. James parish’s work with the St. Vincent de Paul Society, delivering food to the poor on holidays.

It was through St. James that Tucci learned his “gifts” of greeting others and singing. His first time singing was in the St. James choir.

He began helping with Meals on Wheels at Sewickley Hospital, again, dropping off food at the doorstep of people in need.

Tucci, who refers to himself as “we,” because God is always at his side, helps out at the Salvation Army. He rings the bell every year or does whatever they need, he said. He also helps out at the Sewickley YMCA.

His goal is to lead life by example.

“They have missionaries that go all over the world to do work, and what’s so amazing is you can do so much missionary work just by your example,” Tucci said. “Your example in life can help literally thousands of people.”

Tucci just tries to be nice, loving, kind and compassionate towards everyone.

What he gets in return is “inner peace and fulfillment.”

“You feel like you’ve touched heaven on earth and you feel God’s presence in all that you do,” he said. “It’s so incredible in itself. There’s so many ways that everybody can help anyone and whether you’re doing that with the church or with the schools, there’s so many ways to help.”

On occasion, whether there’s a new neighbor in his area or an organization, church or person he thinks could use a boost, Tucci will bring them flowers. It’s always mums or orchids.

Tucci volunteers as a greeter at school performances, like choir and band concerts, across the region. He stands at the entrance and shakes students hands and thanks them for performing.

Tucci makes sure to thank everyone, even those cleaning up the stands at a sporting event.

He often will join them, helping to clean up, after singing for the crowd. It’s another way for people to connect with him.

Across the Sewickley Valley and beyond, Tucci is well known for his singing and volunteer work. Say his name to just about anyone and they get excited to talk about him.

Tucci, who has been singing at athletic events — all volunteer, of course — for nearly 16 years, brings smiles and pride to people when he arrives.

When she first saw him popping up at sporting events for her son, Michelle Denk said Tucci’s performances brought that awe and raw emotion, similar to the feeling she gets seeing the Blue Angels fly above.

At first she was almost mystified: How did he know to show up? This guy was like Santa Claus, traveling around Sewickley bringing joy and breaking the ice before a big game, she said.

Much like Fred Rogers, Tucci makes people feel special and encourages everyone to be themselves, Denk said.

Tucci arrives at games with a truck filled with about 50 tiny American flags and one large one. He also brings a military flag.

He asks for helpers from the little ones to pass them out. Then, he talks about the country, first responders and the flag before singing a patriotic song, or multiple songs.

The kids really enjoy it, said Ken Janeway, a Little League coach in Sewickley.

“When he shows up, it’s like, ‘Mr. Tucci’s here!’” Janeway said. “He’s just there because he’s a kind and caring person.”

It’s Tucci’s passion, though, that resonates with everyone.

It helps jump start the excitement for the game, said Michael Roberts, cross country coach at Holy Trinity Catholic School. Tucci always gives it his all.

“If you could bottle up that passion, you could probably put a rocket on the moon,” Roberts said.

Stephanie Hacke is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. To nominate someone to be profiled as a Sewickley Valley Original, email Include “Sewickley Valley Original” in the subject line. Or call 724-487-7208.