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Published: Friday, 1/30/2009

Professor considered a 'godfather' at BGSU

BOWLING GREEN - Joseph Gregory Spinelli, 69, an associate professor emeritus of geography at Bowling Green State University who was lauded for his teaching, died Tuesday in hospice care at Blanchard Valley Hospital, Findlay.

He had pancreatic cancer.

Mr. Spinelli retired in 2004 after 35 years at BGSU, beginning in 1969 as an instructor of geography. He became an assistant professor in 1973 and an associate professor in 1977.

He was chairman of the geography department from the late 1970s through the early 1980s.

He also had wider administrative duties as an assistant dean in the college of arts and sciences and, later, as an associate dean.

But he favored teaching and garnered the most notice for his classroom work.

"Classroom work was No. 1 on his list," said his brother, John Michael Spinelli. "He thrived in the classroom."

Mr. Spinelli was nominated consistently through the years for top teaching awards, said Elmer Spreitzer, a retired sociology professor - who began at BGSU on the same day in 1969 as Mr. Spinelli.

"He was a magnificent classroom instructor, and he had many long-term respectful relations where [he and students] maintained contact," Mr. Spreitzer said.

Students found him unlike some staid faculty they encountered.

"He was a bon vivant and gourmet," Mr. Spreitzer said.

Mr. Spinelli had 29 "godchildren," as he called them - students with whom he maintained contact long after their graduation, as friend and mentor.

"If there were angels masquerading on this planet as humans, he was definitely one of them," said LaShelle Aggelakos, who came to BGSU in 1993 and called Mr. Spinelli "Nuno," the Greek word for godfather.

Ms. Aggelakos was a student of Mr. Spinelli's, and they talked about his international travels during his office hours. As with the other godchildren, he advised her on academics, but later about life and the world and culture. They went to the opera and symphony.

"He taught me about classical music and great literature, and we would debate politics," Ms. Aggelakos said. "We would watch old movies, and he taught me about Italian cooking, and he taught me to make his grandmother's Sicilian pizza. That was outside anything I could ever learn in school.

"Both of my grandfathers died before I was born. He really filled that role for me," she said.

His specialty was Latin American and population geography, although he taught courses on Eurasia, Africa, and the Pacific and on conservation of resources and regional development.

He grew up in Springfield, Ohio, the son of parents who came to the United States from Italy as children. He was a 1957 graduate of Springfield High School.

Annual road trips to California with his father and older brother while growing up - they camped out and cooked pasta by the side of the road - sparked his interest in travel and the world beyond his backyard, his younger brother, John Michael, said.

International trade was his specialty as he studied for his bachelor's degree in business administration from Ohio State University, from which he also received a master's degree in geography. He received his doctorate from the University of Florida.

Surviving is his brother, John Michael Spinelli.

There will be no visitation or services. Arrangements are by the Dunn Funeral Home, Bowling Green. A memorial gathering will be held from 2 to 8 p.m. tomorrow in Mr. Spinelli's Bowling Green home.

The family suggests tributes to Bridge Home Health and Hospice.

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