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Joe Bumbacco 'sizing up the angels' for skates in heaven

Great Sault athlete and businessman remembered for generosity and humour

Bumbacco Sports became a shrine in a city where sports is followed with religious fervour.

For more than 35 years, since opening in 1954, the sporting goods store was a Sault Ste. Marie fixture.

Owners Joe Bumbacco and cousin Angelo embodied the store. 

Sports was a passion for the legendary Angelo, who went on to be coach, general manager, part owner and president of the Soo Greyhounds. 

Joe played for the Hounds, was in the Montreal Canadiens minor league system and had a shot at pursuing a career in baseball.

The business was a natural fit for the Bumbaccos.

“It was very community oriented,” said Tom Blair, who is married to Joe’s daughter Kelly.

Angelo Bumbacco passed away last year at the age of 89.

On Friday, Joe joined his cousin on the big shiny rink in the sky. 

He passed away at the age of 91.

Bumbacco touched so many lives, especially young lives of kids with big dreams and those who just wanted to have fun.

“I remember him being so good to the kids in the West End,” said Michael Caruso in a message on Joe Bumbacco’s obituary. “All the new arrivals from Italy were always welcomed in the store, even if just to look at stuff. Joe was generous to all of them. Maybe you can size up all the angels in heaven with new skates and coach their hockey team.”

Of course, most of the kids Joe suited up at the store didn’t go on to pro sports.

But some did.

“I first met Joe like a lot of kids in the Soo did, at Bumbacco Sports where he helped a lot of us young aspiring athletes get suited up for our activities,” said NHL Hall of Famer and Sault native Ron Francis. “Later, my family moved and I ended up going to school with his son Nick. Nick and I became good friends and as a result I got to spend more time around Joe and his family. He was a terrific person! He had an infectious sense of humor that always made you smile but his best attribute was his willingness to help others. Joe had a heart of gold. He will truly be missed by his family and all of us who knew him.”

Tom Blair recalls meeting Wayne Gretzky in London England and he said the Great One’s eyes lit up when he mentioned Bumbacco Sports.

“He had connections to the NHL,” said Kelly. “The store brought in players like Bobby Orr and Gordie Howe to raise funds and meet the kids.”

It’s said that when Bumbacco was in the Canadiens organization he skated alongside players like Boom Boom Geoffrion and Jean Beliveau.

While he was known as a great athlete, it was his generosity that shone bright throughout his life along with his sense of humour, which was referenced by a number of people who posted condolences.

“I’ve gotta say he was just about the funniest man I’ve ever known,” said Tom Blair.

“There was so much to my dad,” said Kelly. “My dad was very active in the church. He never turned down anyone for anything.”

She recalled stories people told her about how her dad would offer discounts or special payment plans for those who could not afford equipment up front. Her grandfather would come into the store where he sharpened skates and Bumbacco would tell him which kids from poorer families not to charge.

Hunting, fishing and camping were also a big part of the store and Bumbacco’s life.  

A condolence posting from Raymond Robert Stanghetta reads: “I still have my original 16 gauge that you personally explained at young age the safety requirements in my possession. And towards the experience to grow up and realize the importance of customer care.”

The obituary says “Joe selflessly volunteered with local organizations including the Bandettes Drum & Bugle Corps, minor league hockey and many others, making innumerable contributions to our community. Joe will be long remembered for all he gave.”

Frank Rupnik

About the Author: Frank Rupnik

Frank Rupnik is Community Editor of SooToday. Frank is a veteran writer and editor who has worked at daily newspapers across Ontario for more than 30 years
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