Jim Balamaci, President and CEO of Special Olympics Alaska, an extraordinary leader who lived to inspire goodness in people and communities, passed away during the morning of Feb. 1, 2018.
Born in Bridgeport, Conn., on Nov. 9, 1954, James Dennis Balamaci, 63, was the son of the late Dennis Balamaci, and Frusina Balamaci, who visited him often in Kodiak and Anchorage during his 40 years in Alaska. Growing up, he was a paper boy, considered his first entrepreneurial venture; he played a variety of sports for church and local leagues in Bridgeport; and he had a number of leadership roles in a St. Dimitrie Church youth organization, MAC-AROY (Macedonian Romanian Orthodox Youth Organization), becoming president for two years. These were the activities that shaped his young life.
A graduate of Central High School in 1972, he graduated from Iona College in 1976.
A year later, he followed his dream to go to Alaska, settling in Kodiak, where, always curious and ready to explore, he took on a number of different jobs, including commercial fishing, carpentry and teaching.
Jim started out as a Special Olympics Alaska volunteer in 1979, and later coached in the 1980s. In 1996, he became the President/CEO of Special Olympics Alaska. Under his leadership, Alaska hosted the 2001 World Winter Games in Alaska, which raised the visibility of the Healthy Athletes Program and School Program, increasing their funding sources. Eunice Kennedy Shriver, founder of Special Olympics, once told Jim it was the best world winter games in Special Olympics history.
In Alaska, Jim was recognized as a leader in his field and received many awards for his work for people with intellectual disabilities. He advocated that through sports training and competition, people with intellectual disabilities gain confidence, friendships, acceptance, inclusion and a healthier lifestyle that exceeds the communities they live in.
In 2014, he achieved one of his most important goals - completing the Special Olympics Alaska Athlete Training Center and Campus with the help of his community, a 28,000-square-foot facility that includes a fitness center, indoor track, multipurpose sports court and classrooms for both athletes and volunteers. Most recently, Jim and his team had been developing an Aging Unified Athlete Program for Alaska athletes and their families.
Jim was beloved by his family, and is survived by his mother, Frusina Balamaci; his sister, Marilyn Balamaci in Rye, N.Y.; his sister, Caryn and her husband, Nicholas and their children, Julie and Andrew Balamaci in Scarsdale, N.Y.; his brother, Dean and his wife, JoAnna and their children, Kathryn and Matthew Balamaci in Fairfax, Va.; and a large extended family.
Details on memorial services will be announced at a later time. For those wishing to honor Jim's life and his legacy, donations may be made to SpecialOlympicsAlaska.org.
Arrangements entrusted to Legacy Funeral Homes. To share words of comfort with the family please visit www.legacyalaska.com.
Published by Anchorage Daily News on Feb. 4, 2018.