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CLEVELAND: 2110 Murray Hill Road, OH 44106.


Joe Tomba, aged 75 passed away due to complications from Alzheimer’s at his daughter

Cassie’s home on March 6th, 2021 with his daughters, grandchildren and son-in-law

surrounding him in love. He was a lifelong scholar and teacher, in work and in life.

His intelligence and love of books were surpassed only by his fierce love of his family

and his perfect hugs.

Born on April 14th, 1945 to Joseph and Edith Tomba, Joe was a dedicated and loving son.

A graduate of Borromeo High School and College, he got his teaching certification at

John Carroll University then went on to get his M.A. at Cleveland State University.

He taught at St Peter’s High School in Cleveland for several years before starting an

almost 40 year career teaching English at Lake Catholic High School in Mentor.

Joe is preceded in death by the love his life, wife of 48 years, Debbie, who passed away just months prior.

Married in 1972 in Bellefontaine, Joe and Debbie were a couple who inspired others. They had fun together

no matter what they did and continued to laugh together until the very end. Despite an aversion to flying,

Joe and Debbie loved traveling and saw much of the United States together. They built Christmas traditions

for their kids that have been carried on for the next generation and started a tradition of Forced Family Fun,

that eventually was no longer forced. Joe was the most devoted Husband who loved no one’s company 

as much as Deb’s whether it was the hours they spent on the phone while they dated or the time she spent reading

to him when he could no longer do it himself.

He is survived by his devoted daughters Abbie Tomba, Cassie (Rob) Pryor and Amanda Tomba. He was a builder of forts,

maker of sun tea, reader of Jabez Dawes, buyer of books, teller of stories, and creator of new games. His love and support

for them was unwavering and he never passed up an opportunity to tell them how proud he was. His jokes were a source

of laughter and groans, usually at the same time and his belief that you never talked down to children taught his daughters

from the earliest age that their opinion was important, their voice mattered and they could learn anything. His actions modeled

what a husband should be and what true partnership in a marriage was.

As “Papa” to Olivia, Luke and Ethan McConville he loved playing with blocks, reading stories, looking for interesting shells,

rocks and unusual fruits. He was a “baby whisperer” who could manage to put any baby to sleep and then used it as an excuse

for his own nap. He was happy to follow wherever they led and take as much time as possible to look at anything they were

interested in be it a stick or a colony of ants. He never turned down a request to be held or a water gun fight and encouraged their creativity

and supported every passion of theirs.

A devoted and loving older brother, he is survived by his sister Mary Loretta Olack and brother Tim and sister-in-law Gail.

He cherished the time he spent with them and the laughter they shared throughout their lives.

He is also survived by in-laws Bob (Sharon) Holderman, Sandy Hodges, Roxanne (John) Tackett, and Colleen Ray, and many

nieces and nephews and many life longs friends from the Seminary, and the friends he inherited from Debbie’s nursing school days.

His hobbies included fishing, napping, and reading.

As an educator he influenced thousands of teens over a 40-year career. Even if they didn’t share his enthusiasm for works

of Chaucer, Milton or Melville he instilled a love of learning, literature and writing in many. He taught his students that

words mattered, being curious was important and success had nothing to do with grades. He wasn’t afraid to tackle tough

subjects or speak up for his students or colleagues.

He was honored to be inducted into the Lake Catholic Hall of Excellence in 1997 and that upon his retirement in

2010  a scholarship was established in his name. He was also delighted to return to Lake for years to play Santa

at the annual Broadmoor Christmas Party.

The Tomba family would like to thank the staff and residents at The Enclave of Newell Creek’s memory care for taking

such good care of their Father/Papa/Brother etc. His last few months there were filled with new friends and compassionate care.

Joe and his family were dedicated to finding a cure for Alzheimer’s after seeing the effects it had on him and his family.

In lieu of flowers they ask for donations to be made to the Alzheimer’s Association. A celebration of life will be held at a later date.

32 Replies to “JOE TOMBA”

  1. Kelly Finley Wolf says:

    Words cannot express the love and admiration that I had for Joe. He was a wonderful teacher, colleague, and friend. I worked with Joe for many years at Lake Catholic. One of my favorite memories was listening to him and Bob Turoszy debate/discuss Hemingway’s “A Farewell to Arms.” It was truly wonderful! (They argued about symbolism if you can believe that.) Besides his love for literature, Joe had the best smile and laugh. It was truly infectious! He would just have this little giggle that made you want to laugh along with him. After he retired, I loved that he came back to play Santa. I just had to go and see him and give “Santa” a hug. God has gained a great man and he will truly be missed.

  2. Ed and Lora Tomba says:

    Rest In Peace cousin Joe. May you be reunited with Debbie and all of your loved ones. You will be missed.

  3. Don Sull says:

    My condolences to the Tomba family. Joe was the first great teacher I ever met. He maintained high standards in class discussions, had a genuine (and infectious) passion for literature, and most importantly he respected the opinions of his students. He has been my role model as a teacher for 25 years, although I’ve never managed to balance discipline and gentleness as well as Joe did. He was also a great mentor in writing, or rather rewriting, to prune away the clutter and reveal the hard-edged core of a sentence. And then organize those sentences into a logical architecture. “The mind is not a vessel that needs filling,” Plutarch wrote, “but wood that needs igniting.” Joe ignited a love of literature and clear writing that has lasted all my life, and that was a great gift. May he rest in peace.

  4. Loretta Novitskey says:

    It was an honor to work with Joe at Lake Catholic. He was a wonderful person and teacher. He loved what he did and loved all the students. I’m so sorry to hear of his passing. My prayers go out to his family. Rest now in peace Joe.

  5. Carrie Matejka says:

    I will never forget Mr. Tomba .
    He was one of my English teachers at Lake Catholic. He was always so kind and welcoming .
    He had the best smile.
    I ran into him and his wife while shopping at Target a few years ago and we stopped and chatted for a few minutes. RIP

  6. mark kindler says:

    He was a great great man !! i graduated in 1985 and remember him well !! Condolences to his whole family, from mark and kim kindler

  7. Jason Robert Lewis says:

    My heartfelt condolences to the entire Tomba family. Joe was my high school English teacher at Lake Catholic in the mid 1990’s. I learned so much from him about English and American literature. He was so loved by his students and I always appreciated his “quiet” yet funny sense of humor, especially regarding anything we were reading. He made significant contributions to the Lake Catholic community, Catholic education and had a great respect for education in the Ursuline tradition at L.C. He will be very missed! May his memory be eternal.

  8. Debbie Pattie says:

    Joe Tomba was the type of person that should have lived to 150 years old. He absolutely loved life, and he embraced every minute of time. To me, Mr. Joe Tomba was a great English Teacher, Homeroom Teacher, and later in life a fellow employee at Lake Catholic. He was never one to judge anyone. To hear he suffered from Alzheimer’s is a total shock to me, as when I came back to work at Lake Catholic, Joe was one of the first I ran into, and by gosh, he not only remembered me, but he immediately called me by not only my first name, but full name. He absolutely made an impression in my life, and I can only hope that he will rest in peace. You will be mised Mr. Tomba!

  9. Arlene Strauss says:

    I had the great fortune of being in Mr. Tomba’s English class at Lake Catholic in the early seventies. How he loved words and ideas and making us think about them! Even as a not very perceptive teenager, I knew this was a man who loved to teach us. Rest well, Mr Tomba.

  10. Juli Gembus says:

    Mr. Tomba fueled my passion for literature. I was a student of his from 1998-1992 and I truly adored him and his kindness. My prayers to his family.

  11. Rick Koenig says:

    Joe was simply the best teacher I ever worked with. Period. In teaching a Humanities subject, leading a quality discussion is the best technique. Joe was a Master at this, and I learned so much from watching and listening to him while he was engaging all of the students in the class. I always said that you had to have Joe as a teacher to get the full Lake Catholic experience. I insisted that my own kids have him. They knew they were in the presence of someone special. The giggle was usually self deprecating, and it made my day every time I heard it. Getting to spend the last two years of his wonderful career with him, and laugh and tease is a treasure of mine. We were all better for knowing him.

  12. Janet Todt Gommel says:

    When I thought as a child I could elude history in my family, Mr. Tomba asked me if I knew what my name meant. He taught me not to be worried about history I couldn’t change. He also, by bringing his dad to our events, showed a love for his dad and how proud he was with us. It gave me courage to love my parents openly, and the ability in a new place to grow. Thank you Mr. Tomba.

  13. Michelle Becka says:

    I loved English class with Mr. Tomba. He treated all of us with dignity and respect, I remember feeling grown up and quite sophisticated as he led us through conversations about Chaucer. I babysat for those three beautiful daughters, which basically meant we all sat around and read our books. Much love to this beautiful family, Mr. Tomba made a great and lasting impression on my life.

  14. Thomas Kerr says:

    “My love is like a red, red rose.” RIP, sir.


    I am so happy he was able to be with you all in his final days. It was a blessing to have spent the last few month caring for him. He truly is an amazing man who touched so many lives! My heart is with you all! God bless!!

  16. Matt Keough says:

    Rest in Peace, Mr. Tomba. My sincere condolences to his loved ones. He was so memorable, so affirming. I always loved words and he made me feel like that was a valuable thing. I might add, I was not a remarkable or outstanding student!
    I’ll remember him in my prayers.

  17. Mary (Lukas) DeWinkeleer says:

    I graduated from Lake Catholic in 1991, and Mr. Tomba was one of my all-time favorite teachers. In fact, it is in large part because of him that I became a high school English teacher as well–and have been for 20 years now. I always wished I had told him how much he inspired me during my high school years and beyond. He was a brilliant and kind man, who I will always remember fondly. Whoever wrote his obituary obviously inherited his love of words because it is just beautifully written and perfectly captures his spirit. I hope he’s up in heaven reading Chaucer and Milton to his heart’s content.

  18. Shannon Vitale says:

    Joe Tomba was my second father and Debbie my second mom. They welcomed me into their family with open arms and I truly cherish all the lessons learned and love received. I’ve said many times over the last months that they were 2 of the best human beings I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing – and that will stand true for the rest of my time here on earth. Words cannot express how deeply saddened I am at the loss of both of them. However, their spirit of love and laughter lives on through their daughters and grandchildren. And the amazing gifts they bestowed on all who knew them will, in turn, be shared with many others to come. Love you all so much – my heart is with you.

  19. Susan Means says:

    My heart breaks for the Tomba family. I walked the same journey you did, thus I feel free to say I’m so happy for Joe and Debbie being together again and pain free! God love all of you for the gathering together To take such needed care of Joe and Debbie

  20. Martin Poluse, Ph.D. says:

    Joe was a great friend and a great teacher.

    Marty Poluse

  21. Sandy Simonis says:

    I loved Joe Tomba and Debbie Tomba. I worked with Joe at Lake Catholic High School and he was a Master educator but quick witted always.
    He was the best. I couldn’t begin to tell you how hard he worked. Never complained. He was the best! Sadly I
    Am writing this. Two days two people gone. Yesterday Margaret Connelly and today Joe Tomba both people I loved. Please God I don’t want to hear about anyone else

  22. Mary Lou Houck says:

    Abbie, Cassie, Amanda – I am so sorry to read of your loss. Your dad was certainly “one of a kind” in the best ways possible. He had an infectious laugh and he used it often! I so enjoyed the story behind the picture of “Papa Smurf” he had in his classroom and thought it so appropriate when he played Santa at the Broadmoor Christmas Party. I really admired the almost reverent attitude he had for literature – and I’m sure his students picked up on that, too! I will keep all of you in my prayers and hope that your happy memories of your dad will support you now and in the future!

  23. Therese Campolieti says:

    I was fortunate to know Joe as my teacher in the 1970’s, as a colleague at Lake Catholic in the 90’s and 2000’s , and as my son’s and daughter’s English teacher in the 2000’s. How lucky is that?? He will be lovingly remembered by generations of students and also by his colleagues. His spirit will live on and I will always remember his love for his students. He was truly a great man!

  24. Cindy O'Janpa says:

    Dear Abbie, Cassie, and Amanda–
    I was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of your dear father and mother. Reading of their beautiful lives and ongoing love story brought me to tears of joy. Hardly a week goes by without recalling some words of wisdom from Joe. Not only was I his colleague for 17 years at Lake Catholic, but I consider him my most vital mentor. He was always willing to think of new ways to educate his students, and his innovative techniques always inspired me. His stories need to be part of a book of essays: Life Lessons from the Tombas (you need to compile it). Also, I was fortunate enough to have known (and instructed two out of three) his wonderful daughters while at Lake Catholic! Abbie, Cassie, and Amanda, you will continue making life “funderful.”

  25. Sam Colacarro says:

    My deepest condolences to the three Tomba girls on the passing of their dear father. Joe and I started at Lake together in 1971 and by far Joe was the best teacher and friend that anyone could ask for. His passion for learning was exceeded by nobody. Anyone who was fortunate enough to be in his class knows the values that Joe possessed and taught to them. I pray that he is with his wife in heaven and together again, they enjoy all the benefits that God may grant them.

  26. Jeanne Ebner says:

    To Abbie, Cassie, Amanda and Family,
    What a wonderful man Joe was!! I knew him as a student in the 70’s at Lake Catholic, taught with him from 1993 until his retirement at LC, and my 3 children had the honor of being students in his class in the early 2000’s. My best friend from high school has always credited him for her good writing skills; my son credits him with being the only English teacher that he could not get away with “BS” answers! I fondly remember his kindness, his laugh, and his love of language (I am a language teacher). “Once a Cougar, always a Cougar!” Your memory will live on, Joe!
    My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

  27. “Little V” says:

    Cassie (and family) — I heard about your Dad through the grapevine and wanted to send my condolences… Reading his obituary and discovering your Mom passed recently too leaves me realizing there are no words deep enough for such a gaping hole… To have Alzheimers and a pandemic as part of the mix as well sounds awful! I know the piercing wounds dementia-type illnesses can cause… I hope and pray moments of peace find you amidst all the grief. My heartfelt sympathy to you!

  28. Terry Finger class of 1986 says:

    My condolences to your family. Mr Tomba was one of my favorite teachers ever. Not just because he excelled at teaching, but more importantly the way he treated people and his students especially. He truly cared and it came across in every class and interaction. Yes sir I checked my punctuation.

  29. Peggy Lagodny says:

    So sad to hear of his passing. He was my English teacher at St Peter HS (class of 1971) and my favorite high school teacher of all time. I always enjoyed his classes. And because of him, Threepenny Opera is still one of my favorite plays. Memories of hanging out in his homeroon after school while I waited for my ride. Lots of great conversations. He was a funny, kind and thoughtful man. So glad I had the pleasure of knowing him. My heart goes out to his family. ♥️

  30. Jim Tomaszewski says:

    I met Joe a long time ago when I was 16 and working as a dishwasher at St. Mary’s seminary on Ansel Rd. (Joe was studying to be a priest, which I’m sure his wife and family are happy he didn’t finish) He was one of the nicest students there and always had a joke or a nice thing to say. That I remember him 52 years later is testament to his impact. One of the good guys.

  31. Carol Raspana Satow says:

    So sorry to hear of Joe’s passing. It’s been many years since I last had contact with him. We shared our great grandparents DeMaiorbus together and my mother Irene was first cousin to his father Joe. I remember him as a soft spoken and kind person. It is so nice to see all the wonderful comments left in his memory. My sincere sympathy to his family, Mary Loretta, and Tim.

  32. Donna(Ramacciato) Sovchik says:

    Our sympathy to the family of Joe, his sister, Mary Loretta and brother, Tim. My mother Lucille (Lanese) Ramacciato was first cousin to his father Joe. May his soul rest in peace.

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