Nicholas Rocco Capanna Memorial Fund Scholarship: Rocco’s Story
by Dom Fonce
October 9, 2023
In collaboration with Mahoning County Career and Technical Center’s Adult Career Center, the Nicholas Rocco Capanna Memorial Fund Scholarship is open to accepting submissions from MCCTC adult welding students. Students must be in good academic standing and exemplify qualities of selflessness, compassion, helpfulness, leadership, and joy. The scholarship award amount is $2,000 and may be used for tuition, books, and supplies. Maryann Capanna, Rocco’s mother, is offering this scholarship to MCCTC Adult Career Center students for the first time. She also reads each submission herself and chooses the awardee. The application information is attached above. The deadline to submit is October 30th, 2023. It is my privilege to interview Maryann about her son’s life and scholarship she founded to honor him. She says offering a scholarship in Rocco’s memory is a way to “find happiness within all the sadness.”
Maryann walks into my office with a binder stuffed with pictures of Rocco ranging from him as a baby to him as a young man working at BOC Water Hydraulics, screenshots of Facebook posts, and saved scraps of writing from his journals. I ask Maryann why she created a book of memories for her son. She says, “Because he deserves it.” She also says the biggest motivation to create the Nicholas Rocco Capanna Memorial Fund Scholarship is that she wants her son to be proud of her—helping others was second nature to Rocco, so Maryann knows this is what he would want. Maryann says Rocco was the antithesis of a judgmental person. In turn, Maryann wants to give aid to individuals who are also non-judgmental and helpful to others.
Rocco was born on October 28th, 1992 in Lake Havasu City, Arizona and grew up in Northeast Ohio once he and his mother relocated to the area. He graduated from Canfield High School. After graduation, Rocco enlisted in the Air Force Reserve and, later, worked at BOC Water Hydraulics while taking classes at Liberty University. Rocco died on April 18th, 2015 from a stomach hemorrhage while visiting friends at Ohio University. He was 22 years old. While growing up in Ohio, Rocco and Maryann found solace in each other, as Rocco’s father was not around. Maryann tells me dozens of stories the two of them shared and has hundreds of more to tell. It is evident that her love for her son was strong while he was alive, and that her love for him is maintained well beyond his passing.
Rocco and Maryann
Rocco was a mama’s boy and wasn’t afraid to admit it to anyone. Because he loved writing, Rocco would leave Maryann little notes around the house that gave her support when times were difficult. Maryann tells me the two loved having “movie days” together, where the two sat in bed with candy and popcorn, watching movie marathons all day. They also enjoyed playing video games, talking about each other’s day together, and dressing up in NFL gear to watch the Eagles play. She tells me, “I used to sit in the hallway and wait for Rocco to go to sleep just to make sure he knew I was there for him.” At the age of 8, Rocco had to mature extremely fast due to his parents’ divorce—wake himself up, make his own breakfast, walk himself to the bus, care-give for his father—so, once he and his mother moved to Ohio, they acted as each other’s support system, and Rocco was mature enough to be leaned on.
Growing up, Rocco enjoyed playing sports like flag football for Canfield Little Cardinals and racing cars at Quaker City Motorsports Park. As a child and teenager, Rocco showed a willingness to help others, participating as a Junior Soldier in the Salvation Army for example. Maryann recounts when Rocco would help a neighbor every night with their broken-down car. Maryann says of her son helping their neighbor every day, “I didn’t want his goodwill to be taken advantage of, but later I realized that he was teaching me to be my best self.” In high school, Rocco knew he wanted to serve his country and talked to an Air Force Reserve recruiter. The recruiter told him he had to lose weight to join. In a journal entry, Rocco writes about his experiences hearing this news—shouldering the challenge and professing to the page that he would succeed. Maryann says he lost 85 pounds during this time, and was able to join. Through his actions, and especially the writing he has left behind, Rocco was obviously a very thoughtful person who was ready to take on the responsibilities of life.
Maryann shows me a training-stained t-shirt signed by Rocco’s Air Force Reserve unit—each signature accompanied by inscriptions of inside jokes, memories, and thanks. One of these inscriptions read, “Hey, brother, you are seriously one of the best friends I’ve ever had. You helped me get through way more than you will ever know.” When Rocco passed away, the community response showed how massively beloved he was. BOC Water Hydraulics still hangs up Rocco’s work shirt in their facility to honor him. After his death, Maryann held a fundraiser for his memorial scholarship. BOC helped organize the venue, which was donated to hold the fundraiser. Raffle baskets were donated in droves, and Belleria Pizza donated food. Maryann says the fundraiser was extremely successful, and the turn out was huge. She has offered the Nicholas Rocco Capanna Memorial Fund Scholarship for 8 years with the money raised at the fundraiser. She doesn’t plan to stop offering it anytime soon.
Maryann says that the school setting wasn’t the best place for Rocco. Because of that, he often struggled. Maryann is especially interested in assisting those who struggle in school—looking to help students whose GPA ranges from 2.0 to 3.2, which she says is abnormal for most scholarships. She chooses the awardees based on their responses to the following questions:
1. Tell us about yourself
2. Recall an instance when you experienced failure. What happened? How did you react? What did you learn?
3. If you could have any superpower, what would it be, and how would you use it?
The final question is one that Maryann pulled from her binder and showed me. Rocco responded to this exact question at Liberty University. In turn, this question allows applicants to experience a small slice of Rocco’s experience. Maryann refers to the previous awardees as “my kids” and says she keeps in touch with as many as she can, tracking their successes. Just like she was there to watch Rocco grow over time, Maryann channels those same emotions into watching past awardees grow.
Overall, after learning so much about Rocco, it’s truly a tragedy that his life was cut short at such a young age. By simply seeing dozens of pictures, I can tell that his smile lit up a room. I ask Maryann what Rocco would be doing if he were still alive. She says, “He would probably be married with kids. He always wanted to be a father.” I have no doubt this would be the case. Sifting through dozens more photos of Rocco, I see him with friends, at parties, writing, at work, etcetera—he was always smiling, and people seemed eager to gather around him. Maryann says, “I ask people, ‘How do you know Rocco?” They all say ‘He was my best friend.’” She believes he could become best friends with anybody. He and his mother, I know, were lucky to have each other. And, even if their time together was cut short, the amount of energy, effort, and care Maryann puts into honoring her son keeps him alive.
Rocco at BOC Water Hydraulics
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Dom Fonce is a Marketing Content Writer for Mahoning County Career and Technical Center Adult Career Center. He holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Youngstown State University and a Master of Fine Arts degree from the NEOMFA. He has published two books of poetry. His work can be found at domfoncepoetry.com.