John Hanley Fennessey passed away on Sunday, October 31, 2021 concluding a bountiful and purposeful life.
He was born August 3, 1938, in a North Syracuse that was still somewhat rural. Though his family did not have much money, he and his two brothers enjoyed a rich childhood, exploring the forests, birdwatching, and even trapping for a local furrier. While attending Smith Technical High School. he set up shop as a neighborhood bike mechanic and worked as a gravedigger.
John started with a high school degree in auto mechanics but ultimately achieved a master's degree in urban planning from the Maxwell School At Syracuse University. After a nearly three-year stint as a mechanic in the army, with the help of the GI bill, he then attended Community College, followed by Harpur College and then onto SU. The assessment of learning disabilities was not what it is today, but an undergrad professor did note that in spite of the fact that he left the army as a sergeant, he could not spell the word 'Sergeant'! Like many dyslexics, he developed a perseverance and work ethic that served him well and was admired by all who knew him.
John married Mary Jane Newell in 1965 and started as a project director for the Urban Development Corporation in 1969. In 1975, in partnership with fellow UDC employees, John started Conifer Development, Inc., which today provides affordable multifamily housing throughout the Northeast. John found his work deeply gratifying and treasured the friendships he held with his colleagues.
He was fully engaged with the civic institutions that knit together our community. As a child, he was an altar boy, a Boy Scout, and through the American Field Service traveled to Germany at age 16. As an adult, he gave generous financial and professional support to many institutions. He was a member of the YMCA Metropolitan Board of Directors for 35 years during which time he founded the Senior Citizen Housing Corporation. He was for many years on the board of the Syracuse Opera, and as a devoted member of Holy Cross church was co-chairman of the building committee of the new church.
He loved travel and photography and won first place in the NYS Fair for a photograph he took while traveling in the Philippines. He fabricated and restored stained glass windows and adorned the facade of his barn with windows he rebuilt. He loved mountain climbing, and in addition to being an Adirondack '46er", he climbed Mt. Rainier and Mt. Monc in the Swiss Alps. He loved his friends, and for over thirty years he and his wife Mary Jane threw a St. Patricks Day hooley that was legendary.
Above all he loved to be with his family. His wife of 55 years, Mary Jane Fennessey, his children Erin Mackert (Mark), Daniel (Elizabeth). and Robert (Emily); and his grandchildren Kaitlin, Annie, John, Amelia, Caraline, James, and Finbar. He was happiest with them at the family home of 60 years on the south shore of Oneida Lake, where he saw every summer sunset as a celebration.
John was a man of boundless energy and enthusiasm who moved through this life like a force of nature. Those of us lucky enough to have lived in his tailwinds are forever grateful to have called him family or friend.
Calling hours will be held on Friday, November 5, 2021 from 3-7 pm at Burns-Garfield "A Life Celebration Home", 3175 East Genesee St. Syracuse. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 10:30 am on Saturday November 6 at Holy Cross Church, Dewitt.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Power Scholars, Downtown YMCA, 340 Montgomery St., Syracuse, N.Y. 13202