Disability Advocacy Leader

illustration of Pacinelli by Randy Glass

One high school summer, Ralph Pacinelli was guiding a local youth baseball club when the head coach asked if he would help create a league for kids with disabilities, mostly those affected by polio. He did, and never forgot it. “This was the moment he discovered a career path that interested him,” says family friend Jennifer Ericson.

Pacinelli ’58 MEd, ’68 DEd Edu built a career in vocational rehabilitation and disability advocacy that spanned more than half a century at local, state, and federal levels. In 2002, his enthusiasm spurred him to write lyrics for “Lead On VR,” the “national anthem” of vocational rehabilitation.

As regional commissioner for the U.S. Department of Education’s Rehabilitation Services Administration, Pacinelli supervised 14 state vocational rehabilitation agencies and developed and implemented programs. He was a rehabilitation counselor and staff developer in the Pennsylvania VR office, directed education and research for the International Association of Rehabilitation Facilities, and was a VR association program specialist for the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Pacinelli also was a professor and researcher for rehabilitation studies at the University of Scranton.

The Pennsylvania Rehabilitation Association named a leadership award and annual policy forum for him. In 2017, he and Patricia, his wife of 59 years, who died in 2018, established an endowment in Penn State’s College of Education. Once a Villanova University baseball player, he was a Pennsylvania Senior Games pickleball gold medalist and played on an over-70 softball team. “He was fun, loving, and super generous,” says niece Meredith Bieszczad.

Pacinelli (Alum. Fellow, RA), 89, died Dec. 15, 2023, in Lancaster. Besides a niece and nephew, he is survived by a sister- and brother-in-law. —Meri-Jo Borzilleri