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Funds and affection aid family during time of grief

By Jackie Lupo

HASTINGS — This is a story about families: about a husband and father gone too soon, a brotherhood of firefighters who are no strangers to sorrow, and a village so small that if everyone in it is not related, it sometimes feels that way.

It’s also a story about how something remarkable can happen when old-fashioned family values intersect with digital technology. 

When Brian Paretti passed away suddenly on Aug. 3 at his home in Crompond, he was 25 miles up the Taconic from Hastings. The death of the 63-year-old plumber, who worked with his older brother, Tom, in the family business, Paretti Plumbing & Heating, was a tragedy for his wife of more than 30 years, Donna, and their daughters, Kaitlyn, 26, and twins Alanna and Julianne, 19.

“He had not been sick,” said Donna Paretti. The medical examiner thought the cause of death had been a “major cardiac event,” she reported.

Paretti’s death also was keenly felt in Hastings, where he grew up and where his family’s plumbing business is located.

It would be easy to ignore the last sentence as a mere expression of sentiment — but not if you consider what happened when Brian Schnibbe, a 32-year-old employee of the Hastings Department of Public Works and a volunteer firefighter at Protection Engine Company #1 on Warburton Avenue, learned of the death of this family friend. Schnibbe knew the Paretti family because Brian Paretti’s brother, Tom, had been a longtime member of the fire company, and their father, A.J. Paretti, had been a Protection Engine volunteer for decades, beginning in 1946 and rising to chief in 1967.

Like the Parettis, Schnibbe’s father, Robert, had also been a volunteer at Protection Engine, also rising to chief before becoming Westchester battalion commander, coordinating mutual aid operations for all Rivertowns volunteer fire companies from Hastings to Sleepy Hollow. Robert Schnibbe died of a heart attack while responding to a structure fire in Irvington in 2006. He was 57. 

The news struck a chord with Brian Schnibbe and his friend Mark DeSouza, and they reacted the way firefighters do when someone close to them dies: they “pass the hat” to collect money for the person’s surviving spouse and children.

But Schnibbe is a millennial, so he passed the “virtual” hat, starting a GoFundMe.com page. The page went online last Friday, Aug. 5, with a simple obituary and directions for making a donation to help Paretti’s family with the inevitable expenses that follow an unexpected death. As the Enterprise went to press at noon on Aug. 10, $31,945 had been donated by 321 people.

“I thought, how about I start a GoFundMe page,” Schnibbe told the Enterprise. “I said let me go start it, see how it goes. In just a few minutes, it went crazy.”

“I was in such shock from what happened with Brian,” Donna Paretti told the Enterprise. “And when we went to the Hastings Fire Department, they said, ‘Brian was not a fireman but he was an honorary fireman.’” Schnibbe told her he knew what she was going through. “He and Mark DeSouza said, ‘The firemen are going to take care of everything,’” she recounted. “I was overwhelmed with gratitude. I had no idea he was going to do that. It was beyond words.”

Those who contributed online — some giving $25 or $50, others giving 10 times that — represented a cross-section of Hastings residents who knew Paretti as a friend, as the smiling neighborhood plumber tooling around town in his red van, or as the person who left his warm bed in winter and drove down to the village to fix someone’s furnace. The GoFundMe donors gave money and offered condolences, but many also posted comments about what Paretti had meant to them. Former Village Trustee Marge Apel wrote: “Brian was Hastings! It’s sad he had to leave us so soon. I will miss seeing him around town and chatting with him about the village. May he rest in peace.”

“Brian was an important fixture of my ‘Hastings Team,’” wrote Sue Smith, also a former trustee and an avid community activist who had worked with Paretti as she developed affordable housing in the village. “Whenever I had a problem, I counted on his smile and know-how. This is such sad news!”

John and Joann Doherty wrote, “Brian was always a gentleman in addition to being a reliable craftsman who always came when you called. We will miss this good man. Condolences to his family.”

“Brian was such an unassuming, gentle man,” wrote Pauline and Seiji Kitazato. “He made his work look effortless and was always there when you needed him.”

Lori Walsh wrote that Paretti would be missed. “He knew the names of our children and pets as well as all the ins and outs and quirks of our house. He was willing to fix little problems and take on big ones too. He once called me from vacation in Florida to talk me through the process of relighting the pilot light on my furnace… it was always comforting to see Brian’s van in town and to have him wave and smile as he drove by. We are sending love to his family.”

Schnibbe said, “I’ve known Brian and Brian’s older brother my whole life from growing up in the firehouse.” He said Paretti’s death reminded him of how he had felt when so many people approached him at his own father’s funeral and had told him how much he had meant to them.

At Paretti’s Aug. 7 funeral service at Edwards-Dowdle Funeral Home in Dobbs Ferry, Schnibbe said many strangers spoke with Paretti’s wife and daughters. “They were overwhelmed by the love they were surrounded by yesterday at the wake,” he said. “I told the girls, ‘Your dad, when you’re growing up, is just your dad. You realize in his passing how much he meant to people you didn’t know. That’s something different.”

“Brian shared another side of his life with them,” said Paretti’s wife. “It was wonderful for my children to see all the hundreds of customers we met and who told us stories. Brian loved his community, loved Hastings. For everybody to step up like this is truly amazing... and they don’t even know us. Everybody loved and cared for him.”


The “Support Brian Paretti’s Family” GoFundMe page is online at www.gofundme.com/BrianParettiFamily.


Read more local coverage of your hometown in this week’s issue of the Rivertowns Enterprise. Newsstand copies are available at several locations listed above, or subscribe today for convenient home delivery.


August 12, 2016

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