OUTDOORS: Longtime Gazette columnist Ognibene, 84, dies at home

By Tim Schmitt
Niagara Gazette

As a photographer, outdoors columnist, father, husband and friend, Joe Ognibene wasn’t one to avoid hard work or putting in extended hours.

Ognibene, a Lockport native who penned the Gazette’s “Outdoor Scene” for 51 years, died on Monday at the age of 84 in his Grand Island home.

“The highest impression of a person is what I have for Joe,” said friend Mike Fox, who fished regularly with Ognibene in his later years. “I’m dumbfounded by this. I just miss him. Already. He was the greatest guy.”

Ognibene worked as a photographer at the Gazette for three decades, winning numerous awards by using a gritty style that demanded high standards. He also freelanced for the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, Courier-Express and Buffalo Evening News.

“Joe was an aggressive photographer,” longtime Gazette reporter Don Glynn said. “Not even the Secret Service could keep him away from John F. Kennedy on a visit to Niagara Falls in the 1960s.

“A woman scooted around a barrier that day at the Niagara Falls airport and planted a kiss on the startled JFK. Joe captured the whole scene on film and won a coveted Associated Press award for his efforts.”

His son, Randy, remembers a father who was the same way at home. The family

“The biggest thing he taught me was to be competitive,” said Randy, a women’s basketball coach at Mount St. Mary college. “When he was a photographer he wanted the best shot, and he was willing to put the extra effort in to get it.

“That’s how I’ll always remember him. He taught me to not to settle for a mediocre job. And I’m proud of what he taught me.”

Ognibene’s column often trumpeted political causes pertaining to outdoors issues, sometimes vehemently. But those who knew him understood that none of it was for show.

“He was his own man, more than anyone I know. He didn’t take a side on something just to take a side. He’d only do it if he felt (strongly),” Fox said. “He was the epitome of honesty.”

“Whenever we went hunting, he was a true sportsman,” Randy added. “He never went over the limit, never went onto posted property, never littered. He taught me to be an outdoorsman the right way.”

His wife Mary, who worked at the Gazette when the couple met, died in January of 2008. Ognibene decided soon after to retire the column and spend winters in Florida.

His son said losing Mary was a tremendous blow.

“She was definitely his rock,” Randy said. “She made his life fun and worth living. When she died, it took a lot out of my father. He missed her dearly.”

Contact sports editor Tim Schmitt at 282-2311, ext. 2266.