Dr. Ralph N. Pacinelli, 89, a vocational rehabilitation leader and disability advocate, passed away on Friday, December 15, 2023 at Willow Valley Communities, Lancaster, PA. He was born in Downingtown, PA to the late Ralph and Josephine (Shaw) Pacinelli. He is preceded in death by Patricia (Piersol), his wife of 59 years.
He is survived by his sister-in-law, Joan Burks, Lancaster, PA; a brother-in-law Barry Piersol (Vickie) Bowling Green, Ohio; a niece Meredith Bieszczad (Jake) Perrysburg, Ohio; a nephew Brandon Piersol (Rachel) Ann Arbor, Michigan; and five great nieces and nephews, Vera, Lena, Iris, Bennett, and Hudson. He is also survived by his best friend, Sandy Blanchard.
A lifelong learner, Ralph earned a Bachelor of Science in education from Villanova University in 1956, and a Master of Education in rehabilitation counseling from Penn State University in 1958. He held teaching certifications in English, social studies, and counseling. He also served with the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. In 1968, he earned his doctorate in rehabilitation education from Penn State University.
His career in vocational rehabilitation spanned over 50 years. As Regional Commissioner for the U.S. Department of
Rehabilitation Services Administration, Ralph oversaw 14 state vocational rehabilitation (VR) agencies and helped develop and implement programs throughout the southern and mid-Atlantic regions. Additionally, he has served as Executive-on-Loan to the President’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities; Rehabilitation Counselor and Supervisor of Staff Development for the Pennsylvania Office of VR; Director of Education and Research for the International Association of Rehabilitation Facilities; VR Association Program Specialist for the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare; and Affiliated Research Professor of Rehabilitation Studies at the University of Scranton.
During the summer before his senior year of high school, while working for a parks program, Ralph helped form a minor league within the local little league baseball program that made provisions for children with disabilities. That experience ignited his passion to help people with disabilities, a passion that shines through in the lyrics he wrote in 2002, for the National Anthem of VR, “Lead On VR.” He has also authored more than 40 scholarly works, including book chapters, monographs, and training manuals.
In recognition of his contributions to VR, the Pennsylvania Rehabilitation Association has named both a leadership award and an annual policy forum after him. Over the course of his career, Ralph has received over 40 leadership awards, including Outstanding Leadership Award from the Pennsylvania Rehabilitation Association, Award for Excellence in Rehabilitation Leadership from the University of Scranton, Executive Leadership Award from the Rehabilitation Services Administration, and the Mary E. Switzer Award for Rehabilitation Leadership from the National Association for Rehabilitation Leadership.
He has also been honored with the Alumni Fellow Award from Penn State University, Hammer Award from Vice President Gore for making government more efficient, Distinguished Service Award from the Pennsylvania Rehabilitation Association, Mid-Atlantic Administration Award from the National Rehabilitation Association, and the Leahy Faculty Fellow Award from the University of Scranton.
Upon retirement, Ralph continued to serve others, becoming a dedicated volunteer at Willow Valley Communities. He also played on the Willow Street over-70 men’s softball team and was a pickleball gold medalist in the Pennsylvania Senior Games.
He wishes to thank the staff of both The Glen of Willow Valley Communities and Hospice & Community Care for their excellent care and compassion. To leave an online condolence for the family, please visit: