Carmen J. Veneziano

August 03, 2013|By JANET HEIM |
  • Carmen "Joey" Veneziano is seen in this picture taken in the student council office at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown.
Submitted photo

Carmen “Joey” Veneziano was known by different names to different people.

To family and friends, he was Joey.

In the world of academia, where he worked and studied, he was Carmen, named for one of his grandfathers, said his mother, Teresa Veneziano.

“He was very proud of his Italian heritage,” Teresa said.

She said he was the first grandchild, born two years after her father’s death, and “brought life back into the family.”

Not long after Joey’s birth, he was given the nickname “Apple Dumpling” by his aunt, Kathy McCauley, who helped raise him.

“We co-parented our children together,” Kathy said. “Joey would say, ‘These are my two mothers, but they’re not gay, they’re sisters.”

Kathy’s daughter, Colleen, was raised with Joey, all sharing a townhome in Town Oak Village off Maryland Avenue.

“Technically, we’re cousins, but we’re more like brother and sister,” Colleen McCauley said.

Both children went to St. Mary’s Catholic School and St. Maria Goretti High School. During his school years, especially high school, Joey had many teachers who had an impact on him, Kathy said.

After high school, Joey attended Loyola University in Baltimore on a presidential scholarship in the hope of becoming a cardiologist.

Two years later, Joey knew cardiology wasn’t the field for him and he returned home, taking what Kathy called “a sabbatical” while he figured out the next step.

“He wasn’t happy,” Teresa said.

Joey worked at Borders bookstore and “got hooked into Goretti again,” Kathy said.

Joey, who was very computer savvy, was asked to help rewire the school for computers, which led to conversations with Christopher Siedor, who was principal at Goretti from 2000 to 2008.

“We told him you have to be happy,” Kathy said. “We told him he could work at Walmart if he was happy, then Mr. Siedor turned it around.

“The principal kind of got on his case. He asked Joey if he’d thought about teaching.”

Once the seed was planted, “there was no looking back,” Teresa said.

Siedor said Teresa and Kathy give him too much credit.

“The only thing I did was identify the talent of a very bright guy,” Siedor said. “I just encouraged him. In his case, it seemed to be the right guidance. That was him, not me.”

Without a scholarship, the family couldn’t afford to send Joey back to Loyola, so he inquired about taking classes at the University System of Maryland at Hagerstown. Joey was told he didn’t have enough credits to go there and needed to start at Hagerstown Community College.

He completed two years of classes in one year, taking a fast-track attitude that would mark his educational pursuits.

Joey transferred to Frostburg State University at USMH, and graduated summa cum laude in May 2011 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

The next step was University of Maryland Baltimore County, where Joey earned a master’s degree in applied sociology with a focus on statistical applications and analysis, graduating summa cum laude in December 2012.

He worked as a teaching assistant and tutor there while doing his graduate studies.

“Joey loved numbers,” Teresa said.

He had started work on his doctorate at UMBC in public policy last spring after receiving an assistantship.

Joey also started working at Frostburg at USMH as a statistics instructor in the Sociology Department. His ultimate goal was to become a college president.

Joey was known for being a stickler for grammar and punctuation, which was attributed to his Catholic school education.

“My brother said he wanted to write him a letter, but feared he would correct it and send it back, so he just called him,” Teresa said.

It was while on a family vacation that Joey learned he had gotten all A’s except for one B one semester.

“He cried like a baby because he didn’t have a 4.0,” Kathy said.

Upon checking with the professor, Joey discovered that the professor hadn’t received the last six pages of the paper Joey had emailed. Within two hours, he had an A in that class.

With his busy schedule, Joey often didn’t get home until between 11 p.m. and midnight, and sometimes would bring home Italian sandwiches to share with his grandmother, who was the only one still awake when he got home.

Joey was known for his culinary skills, and when he asked how he could help around the house, it was suggested he do the cooking.

“He ran the kitchen,” Kathy said. “He was an excellent cook. He did all the cooking, cleaning and laundry. He was a mathematical genius, saving with coupons.”

After he finished work on his master’s degree, the family noticed Joey had been dragging, but figured it was because of how hard he had been working. On March 9, Kathy noticed he had abdominal swelling, and when she asked him what was wrong, he said he had cancer.

He was diagnosed with Stage 4 plasmablastic lymphoma, an aggressive blood cancer that was being treated aggressively and from which he expected to recover.

“Once he was diagnosed, I was his stay-at-home nurse,” Colleen said.

She took him every third Thursday for his chemotherapy appointments, “flushed his PIC line, rubbed the stubble on his head and went to all his doctor’s appointments with him.”

In his typical fashion, Joey delved into the details of his disease, Googling and researching to find out everything he could. He seemed to be responding well to treatment, which required four-day stays at Meritus Medical Center every three weeks.

“What those 5 East nurses did. They were phenomenal. They were family,” said Kathy, who is a nurse.

In addition to his love for education, Joey had many other gifts, Kathy said. Those included “great looks,” knowledge — academic, cooking and music (he was self-taught on the organ) — and was Colleen’s fashion consultant.

“He could do anything,” Kathy said. “He just didn’t get the gift of years on earth.”

Joey’s death was unexpected.

“We don’t really know what happened the day Joey died,” Kathy said.

He had collapsed in the bathroom at home, and Colleen found him and was unable to find a pulse.

“The doctor was in shock,” Colleen said. “All his blood counts were good.”

The family knew Joey had affected many lives, but it was at his viewing that they saw it personally.

“We had no idea the volume,” Kathy said.

The funeral home estimated about 300 people had come to pay their respects, from childhood friends to college colleagues.

“Even though cancer most likely took his life, academia was his life and that’s what we’re focusing on,” said Kathy, who noted that a memorial scholarship at USMH has been started in Joey’s name.

The family has started grief counseling through Hospice of Washington County to help them deal with the loss.

“He’s with his grandfather he never got a chance to know,” Teresa said.

Kathy said Joey also is with his best friend, Dominic Britti, who died in March. The two were like brothers, both working on their doctorates.

“I lost my best friend,” Colleen said.

“He lived a fulfilling life,” Kathy said. “He was very happy. When you look at all his accomplishments, that in itself is comforting.”

“He lived it with gusto,” Teresa said.

“He could smile. He taught us a lot,” Kathy said.

Editor’s note: Each Sunday, The Herald-Mail runs “A Life Remembered.” Each story in this continuing series takes a look back — through the eyes of family, friends, co-workers and others — at a member of the community who died recently. Today’s “A Life Remembered” is about Carmen J. Veneziano, who died July 17 at the age of 30. His obituary was published in the July 20 edition of The Herald-Mail.

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