Walter Alexander Denero died peacefully at his Athens home on Sunday, October 20, 2013. He was 79.
He was preceded in death by his parents, John and Sarah Denero, and brother, Robert F. Denero.
Survivors include his wife of 43 years, Sharon Blattner Denero; daughters and their husbands, Jennifer and Brendan Leahy, and Darcie and Jason St. Onge; beloved grandchildren, Brian, Sean, and Alexander Leahy, and Grant, Audrey, and Nathaniel St. Onge, all of Athens; brothers, John V. Denero, of Aiken, S.C., and Richard T. Denero, of Fultonville, N.Y.; and sister, Paulette Brandt, of Baldwinsville, N.Y. He also had numerous nieces and nephews.
Walt was born and raised in Syracuse, N.Y. Upon graduation from St. Bernard's College & Seminary, in Rochester, N.Y., he was ordained as a Catholic priest in 1959. As a parish priest, he was actively involved in social justice issues. In 1965, he joined Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and religious leaders of every denomination and faith for the peaceful protest march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala. He left the priesthood after receiving a papal dispensation and stayed active in the church throughout his life.
Walt moved to Athens in 1968 to attend the School of Social Work at the University of Georgia. In 1970, he completed his master's degree and became director of the Athens Model Cities Program, a federal program designed to enhance the lives of individuals living in the inner cities. The program brought over 20 million dollars to Athens. A few accomplishments of the Model Cities Program include the paving of 15 miles of unpaved streets in the city of Athens, the construction of the East Broad Street Bridge, the construction of water and sewer lines, and the planning and construction of Bishop Park. In addition, the Neighborhood Health Center was opened, the Athens Transit System was established, and teacher aides were introduced to the Clarke County School District.
In 1975, Walt began his 22-year career at the University of Georgia. He completed his Ph.D. in Public Administration in 1980. During his tenure at UGA, he held positions in the Governmental Training Division of the Institute of Government and served as the Director of the Legislative Research Division. As director, he was charged with conducting studies to be used by the State of Georgia General Assembly in formulating and enacting legislation.
In 1982, Walt was appointed the founding Director of the J.W. Fanning Leadership Center, whose mission was to facilitate effective community leadership throughout the state of Georgia. Programs were established in 125 counties, including Leadership Albany, Leadership Athens, Leadership Chattooga, and Leadership Rome. Later, its mission was expanded to include leadership training programs for various populations, such as elected officials, state employees, high school and college students, persons with disabilities, and public housing residents.
In 1997, Walt received the Outstanding Georgia Citizens Award.
Apart from his work, Walt will long be remembered for his contributions to his community and the church. He served as the president of numerous Athens non-profit organizations, including the Athens Area Council on Aging, the Northeast Georgia Girl Scout Council, Family Counseling Services, the Cedar Shoals High School All Sports Booster Club, and the Athens Chapter of the American Heart Association. In addition, he served as the state president of Catholic Social Services and as president of the St. Joseph's Board of Education. He was also elected to the Clarke County Board of Education and served as the vice-president. At the time of Walt's death, he was serving on the Clarke County School District SPLOST Community Oversight Committee, responsible for stakeholder input into the design of all new Clarke County schools.
In his life as a priest, as a Model Cities director, and as a community and church leader, Walt considered it his ultimate calling to help provide a better life to those in need by involving everyone in the process.
Walt enjoyed his family life and life in general. Always an athlete and sports fan, he still could amaze his grandchildren by hitting a 3-point basket. Walt rarely went to restaurants because he believed he could cook better and have more fun with family and friends in his own home. Much of his retirement was spent either traveling with his wife, Sharon, or teaching his grandchildren to enjoy fishing, swimming, and boating from their home on Lake Hartwell.
Friends of Dr. Denero can share condolences with the family from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, October 23, at Lord & Stephens Funeral Home East. A private funeral mass will be held at the University of Georgia Catholic Center.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made to a
Lord & Stephens Funeral Home East, Athens, is in charge of the arrangements.
Published in Athens Banner-Herald on Oct. 22, 2013