Michael D’Innocenzo, Hofstra University’s longest-serving faculty member who taught history for more than six decades to generations of Long Island students and inspired many to pursue a career in the public service, died on November 18 of heart failure at his home in Mineola. He was 86.
D’Innocenzo, Hofstra’s professor emeritus of history, was remembered for his dedicated pursuit of knowledge and his commitment to civil rights and social justice.
He met and trained with Pastor Martin Luther King Jr., who received an honorary degree at Hofstra in 1965, launched peace organizations at Hofstra, and ran a quicotic and ultimately unsuccessful campaign for Congress as a Democrat in a solid Republican district.
“He was a generous colleague who modeled for the junior faculty’s qualities of university citizenship that went beyond classroom boundaries,” said Bernard Firestone, former dean of Hofstra College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and professor of political science.
D’Innocenzo grew up in Nyack, the eldest of two brothers to Michael D’Innocenzo, a worker, and Mary D’Innocenzo, who worked at a nursing home.
He took a bachelor’s degree in history from Union College in Schenectady and a master’s degree in history from Columbia University in Manhattan.
In 1960 he was hired by Hofstra, and the following year he developed a popular American Revolution history course, which won the university’s Distinguished Teaching Award, which is voted on by students.
Over the years, his work received other awards, including the Eugene Asher National Distinguished Teaching Award in 2009 and a Lifetime Achievement Award in 2014 by the Association of Italian American Educators.
Hofstra President Susan Poser recently named D’Innocenzo the recipient of the University’s Presidential Medal, which recognizes individuals for outstanding career achievement, leadership, and remarkable public service. The medal will be presented posthumously.
“In more than 60 years of teaching, Mike D’Innocenzo’s record in service, his dedication to the greater Hofstra and regional community of students, scholars and neighbors, and his core belief in democracy and deliberative dialogue have changed the lives of thousands of students and community members, said Poser.
D’Innocenzo was married for 27 years to Mary-Rose Waldron, and the couple had two children, Maria Huntsman, 63, of Hartford, Connecticut, and Laura Laramie, 61, of Rhode Island. Following the couple’s divorce, D’Innocenzo met Andrea Libresco, 62, at a peace conference, and the couple married in 1987 and had two children: Leah Libresco Sargeant, 32, of Alexandria, Virginia. and Zachary Libresco, 30, of Manhattan.
Andrea Libresco, Hofstra’s Leo A. Guthart Distinguished Professor of Teaching Excellence, recalled that her husband would give guest lectures up to seven times a month at Long Island libraries.
“He really touched many lives,” she said. “In East Meadow, 200 people showed up for current events and perspectives among walkers and with helpers. They relied on him talking about the topics of the day … There was a lot of give-and-take in these sessions. He is someone who not only was the sage on stage. He had lots of information, but he also wanted to hear from people. Everyone felt they knew him. “
As a civil rights activist, D’Innocenzo often spoke at teach-ins, and when students were at risk of being named, he participated in an anti-Vietnam War march through Hempstead Village.
He was a founding member of the Hofstra Center for Civic Engagement and the Long Island Alliance for Peaceful Alternatives, and the first recipient of the university’s Harry H. Wachtel Distinguished Professorship for the Study of Nonviolent Social Change, where he taught a course on the king and civilian life. rights movement.
D’Innocenzo lined up twice, first losing a house race in 1984 in New York’s 5th District to rep. Ray McGrath and barely lost a race for North Hempstead Town Council by less than 500 votes.
In 2019, D’Innocenzo and adjunct associate professor of economics Martin Melkonian awarded “peace scholarships” that allowed students to spend more time outside the classroom working on far-reaching community projects and funding education, research and travel to conflict-ridden areas such as Central America and Bosnia.
“Mike was a mighty oak at Hofstra and in the Long Island community,” Melkonian said. “… He was a tireless advocate for peace and social justice.”
He leaves behind his wife; four children; a brother, Joseph; five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
D’Innocenzo donated his body to Hofstra Medical School and convinced 22 others during his library conferences to follow suit.
A memorial service for D’Innocenzo will be held on December 12 at Hofstra’s Student Center Theater. The service will be livestreamed.
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