Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Goodbye to Our Well Loved Friend, M.J. Iuppa

Mary Jo (MJ) Iuppa passed peacefully after a five-year battle with ovarian cancer. She died at home with family by her side.

MJ was born in Rochester, NY to Dr. Louis A. and Josephine Iuppa. The youngest of five children, she had two older sisters, Andrea and Karen, and two older brothers, Bruce and Robert. Growing up in the Rochester area, she lived on Knollwood Drive and Edgemere Drive as a child. MJ attended Sacred Heart Academy until it closed in 1968. She then transferred to Our Lady of Mercy.

She attended St. Bonaventure University and completed her BA in English Literature, Journalism and Media Studies at SUNY Empire State College in 1976.

In pursuit of her art and teaching career, she obtained her Master of Arts in Creative Writing from SUNY Brockport in 2000.

She followed her mentors, Judith Kitchen and Stan Rubin, and enrolled in Pacific Lutheran University to obtain her finishing degree, a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing in 2006.

MJ managed her father’s and brother’s OB/Gyn medical office from 1972 to 1998.

MJ started teaching at St. John Fisher College in 1999 and continued there for 24.5 years. MJ was the Writer-In-Residence at St. John Fisher from 1999 thru 2015.

In 2002, she was hired as an adjunct at SUNY Brockport where she taught Poetry, World Literature, Composition and more.

In 2004, MJ was made Director of the Visual and Performing Art Minor Program, a title she held for 24 years. At Fisher, she taught Poetry, Play Writing, Film, Composition. She created an entirely original class, Encounter With the Arts, which took students to professional arts organizations such as MAG, the George Eastman House, Artisan Works, GEVA, Blackfriars and the JCC. This class brought West African Dance to Fisher and included performance by students from the Eastman School of Music. For most students, it was their first experience with the professional Arts.

During her long teaching career, she also taught thousands of school children both in the City School District through Project U.N.I.Q.U.E. and throughout Monroe County- and the surrounding counties- through BOCES 2, Young Audiences, Genesee Valley BOCES and Newark-Finger Lakes BOCES. Of all her teaching experiences, she loved working with and inspiring the youngest students - 1st, 2nd & 3rd grades.

Almost every summer, MJ would also teach at Writers & Books in their Summer Write program. She taught poetry, creative writing, memoir and more. She especially enjoyed her collaboration with the Genesee COOP (Genesee Center for the Arts and Education) in which her students would write in the morning and make paper or pottery in the afternoon.

Ever since she was a child, MJ wrote poetry. In the early 1980’s, she was an original member of Writers & Books when the organization operated out of a bus. During this time, the opportunity to share her work with others and learn the value of feedback helped cement her desire and confidence to continue writing.

In the early years, she might have only one acceptance in eight months; in the later years, she would have eight acceptances every month! MJ had over 1200 works published. Most were poetry but also essays, 100 Word Stories, mini-fictions, prose poems, non-fiction, etc.

MJ also had five books of poetry published by Foothills Press and one forthcoming book of 100 Word Stories. Her most recent book, The Weight of Air engages with her sense of mortality. In 2021, she wrote a novella, Middle Falls. She wanted to try a longer form, and it is a beautiful story set in our Finger Lakes region. It is awaiting publication.

MJ was also a visual artist, a watercolor painter. She loved to paint simple scenes- perhaps a single flower or a quiet lagoon. She made some of these into mailing cards. She also made simple abstract sculptures using found stones and sea glass. These were often gifts.

Mary Jo also knitted beautiful long warm scarves that she would give to anybody she thought needed one. These are treasured by the recipients for their beauty and comfort.

As if work, teaching and art weren’t enough, MJ was devoted to her family, an avid gardener and a fabulous cook. She lived on a small farm in Hamlin, NY, close to Lake Ontario, surrounded by apple trees and farmers’ fields. This landscape often inspired her poetry. It also inspired her to plant and grow incredible vegetable gardens with her husband, Peter. Much like her life’s work, MJ freely shared the fruits of her labor with her family and friends through incredible meals, overflow produce & eggs, and jarred preserves and sauces. She especially liked the names of heirloom tomatoes and chickens – Brandywine, Cherokee Purple, Amish Paste, Maran and Rhode Island Red – all had a story to tell.

MJ was predeceased by her parents, Dr. Louis A. and Josephine Iuppa, her brother, J. Bruce Iuppa, MD, and her sister, Karen Iuppa. She is survived by her husband of 40 years, Peter Tonery, her children Nick Tonery (Katie Richey-Tonery), Meghan Tonery and George Marron (Caitlin), her sister, Andrea Jepson and her brother, Robert Iuppa (Sue). MJ is also survived by her grandchildren, Brian, Jack, Brigid and George Marron and Nick & Katie’s baby as well as numerous nieces, nephews and cousins - all of whom she loved dearly.
We are organizing a fund through SUNY Brockport in M.J.'s memory, the "M.J. Iuppa Poetry Prize". It will reward young writers with a cash prize for their poetry to help continue MJ's teaching legacy.

Address the envelope to:
Meghan Tonery
6558 4th Section Rd.
STE. 120
Brockport, NY 14420

Write check out to:
Recipient line: M.J. Iuppa
Subject line: Poetry Prize

PLEASE NOTE: This humble abbreviation of MJ’s accomplishments does not do her justice! Please read her CV revised in 2021 below. *******************************************