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Joseph R. Zsigray; 1953-2014: Ex-director of arts center loved music

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Joseph R. Zsigray, Jr., 61, a former executive director of the Collingwood Arts Center and a musician and songwriter whose work is used particularly in Roman Catholic churches, died Jan. 28 at his home in Belize, where he lived half the year.

He had a heart attack, daughter Jamie, said.

The last few years, he divided his time between Toledo, where he shared a residence with his fiancee, Jennie Migliori, and Belize, where he donated instruments to schools and taught dulcimer, harmonica, and ukulele.

“His whole life was about helping people and teaching people music,” Ms. Migliori said.

He stepped aside in 2009 after four years as executive director of the sprawling arts center complex on Collingwood Boulevard, which had been home to the former Mary Manse College and the Ursuline sisters. He also lived at the arts center, as did many artists who rented space there.

“We fill a real significant niche in the landscape of the cultural arts of Toledo,” he told The Blade in 2007.

He found success during his tenure when a touring company staged the off-Broadway hit Menopause the Musical at the center, bringing with it a windfall of visitors and revenue.

He was skilled at making the right phone call to get donations of material and labor to pave the parking lot; draperies from the Stranahan Theater; discarded seats from a movie theater.

He was born Jan. 19, 1953, in Martins Ferry, Ohio, to Doris and Joseph Zsigray, and grew up in Elyria, Ohio. He made music “even when he was tiny,” his mother said.

At 13, he decided he wanted to be a priest, so he attended high school at Divine Heart Seminary in Donaldson, Ind. His interest in the priesthood waned, and he graduated from Midview High School in Grafton, Ohio.

He taught himself to play multiple instruments, and he learned the basics of reading and writing music at the seminary.

From his late teens through early 20s he wrote a flurry of songs and recorded five albums of music that found a home in the post-Vatican II Catholic Church. His songs — “If We Love One Another” is his mother’s favorite — are still sung in many churches, as is his liturgical music.

In the 1970s, he and his then-wife Pauline worked in adult group homes for the Lorain County board of developmental disability.

In the early 1980s, he formed the nonprofit Project Joy. He entertained at nursing homes. He taught music to groups of adults around northern Ohio. In the 1990s, he moved to the Toledo area and sold insurance for a time, but returned to the arts.

He was formerly married to Pauline Sherry and Sandra Bauer.

Survivors include his daughter, Jamie Lynne Turner; sons, Robert, Don, Tim, and David; stepdaughter, Crystal Anderson; brothers, John, Mike, Bill, and Rich; sisters, Sharon Sprouse and Patricia Zsigray, and three grandsons.

Memorial services will be at 3 p.m. Monday in the Labenthal-Mercado Funeral Home, Elyria, where the family will receive friends after 1 p.m. The family suggests tributes to the American Diabetes Association or American Heart Association.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.

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