Berlin remembers ‘Mr. Camp’

A man whose influence has touched thousands of lives, Ronald Campanario, died Easter Sunday at the age of 67. Memorial services are being held by the family for “Mr. Camp,” as many of his students knew him, today April 25 at St. Paul’s Church in Kensington.

Mr. Camp taught instrumental music to students in all four Berlin elementary schools, the old Kensington grammar school, and the now closed Percival school. Mr. Camp’s nephew, Sal Urso, “had the pleasure of working with him,” Urso said, after his uncle began teaching at McGee Middle School after it opened in 1969. Four of Mr. Camp’s students went on to become Berlin area music teachers themselves. “He was a great person who always knew how to make learning fun,” Urso said. Mr. Camp’s dedication was such that when he ran the YMCA music camp, he got up every morning, drove to the bus depot, drove the bus to pick up every student participating in the program, taught the class, and drove every student back to their bus stop before returning to do it all again the next day.

Kevin Brigandi said “the best job I’ve ever had” was working as an assistant marching band director when Mr. Camp directed the high school marching band – and the job was a part-time supplement to his day job. Mr. Camp knew how to make every person in the band feel special and important, no matter what part they played, Brigandi said. He made music “cross through income and popularity, and it didn’t matter if you were the worst or the best, he made you feel important and like you belonged.”

Brigandi said that Mr. Camp was dedicated to his wife and kids and often spoke fondly of them. “He would go out of his way to be nice to people,” said Brigandi, who recalled that Mr. Camp used to ask the band to play Frank Sinatra songs for the assistant principal when he visited the class.

“He had a huge, huge influence on me,” Brigandi said. “I learned leadership and values…He just had this way about him. He really touched thousands of lives.”

Even students who only knew him through private music lessons said he had an enormous impact on them, like Wayne Splettstoeszer, who said “he really cared about you and what you were doing.” Splettstoezer, who is now a music teacher in Torrington, said that Mr. Camp’s lessons helped him get into music school and taught him how to become a teacher.

The outpouring of grief, love and support for Mr. Camp and his family has been enormous. “I can’t even begin to tell you what has been written,” wife of more than 40 years Phyllis Campanario said. “There has been an outpouring of tributes.”

Former students, friends, and family have taken to Facebook and to express how much Mr. Camp meant to them. Former students from as far as Seattle, Wash. and Phoenix, Ariz. reached out to say something about how much Mr. Camp touched their lives.

“Mr. Camp was the first teacher to really inspire and motivate me,” Ann Oliver wrote.

“Mr. Camp was awesome!” writes Warren Catlin.

“Mr. Camp was a great teacher and so kind,” said Anne Sharnick.

“Mr. Camp is one of my favorite teachers. During all of the adolescent angst and uncertainly at McGee, Mr. Camp always had a warm, comforting smile that made you feel better. I remember when he would bring his 3 year old daughter out on stage at the end of the concerts and we always thought how lucky she was to be Mr. Camp’s daughter!” writes Sue Kozlowski of Kensington.

“Some of my best memories were of marching band,” Kim Ross said.

Tom Pavano wrote, “The lessons he taught us in the classroom went beyond notes and key changes. He taught us how to get along, how to be part of a thing that was greater than ourselves, and most importantly to enjoy every minute.”

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