John Cassiani wore many hats during nearly 40 years in Colorado Springs: Real estate developer, economic development executive, civic leader, school board member and volunteer for numerous nonprofits, among others.
No matter what his role, however, Cassiani gained a reputation as an outgoing, intelligent and enthusiastic booster of the Springs who championed what was best for the community - not for himself.
"John is a throwback to the old days," said friend and longtime Springs developer Steve Schuck. "People did things without any expectation of personal gain, personal benefit. They served in the truest sense. John was a giver...There was nothing in it for him, other than the sense of service, the sense of doing what was right."
Cassiani, whose community commitment was matched perhaps only by his devotion to family, died Friday after a battle with cancer. He was 69.
"He just had a big heart for the community and for people," said Julie Boswell, who worked with Cassiani at the Greater Colorado Springs Economic Development Corp.
Born in Pittsburgh and the oldest of six children in a Catholic/Italian family, Cassiani graduated as valedictorian of his high school and starred on its basketball team, which won him a University of Pittsburgh scholarship. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in civil engineering and master's in environmental engineering.
Cassiani's early career as a sales engineer for an environmental company took him to Boston and Salt Lake City. A job with a Denver firm brought him to Colorado Springs in 1981, where - married and with two daughters - he decided to stay.
His sales and marketing experience led him into Springs real estate, where he developed land, home sites and apartments. He also worked for Schuck for a time, overseeing residential developments.
From December 2003 until October 2005, Cassiani was the Economic Development Corp.'s marketing executive vice president - working to attract and create jobs. He left to oversee development of the 23,000-acre Banning Lewis Ranch, a job he held until the ranch was sold.
He launched a consulting company in 2012, the same year he served as board president of the Housing and Building Association of Colorado Springs. In that position, he worked with then-Mayor Steve Bach and other civic leaders to assist victims of the Waldo Canyon fire that destroyed nearly 350 homes. Cassiani helped coordinate and moderate community meetings, among other aid.
"His legacy was his leadership during the Waldo Canyon fire," said Renee Zentz, HBA executive director. "He was a very thoughtful leader during that time."
In 2014, Cassiani joined Colorado Springs Forward as the group's executive director.
He volunteered with Pikes Peak Crime Stoppers, the Boys and Girls Club of the Pikes Peak Region, the Colorado Springs Sports Corp., the YMCA of the Pikes Peak Region, the U.S. Olympic Committee and Silver Key Senior Services, among others. He also was elected to a four-term on the Cheyenne Mountain School District 12 board.
Mayor John Suthers, a longtime friend, said Cassiani felt privileged to live in the Springs and considered it "a paradise of sorts" after growing up in the East.
Rocky Scott, the former head of the EDC, said Cassiani was "the kind of guy who goes the extra mile and takes the extra step for the community...He always made an extraordinary commitment to whatever he did, whether it was as an athlete in school or later in business...He had a lot of friends and made a difference in a lot of places."
While with the EDC, Cassiani gained the trust of prospective employers, who recognized his community dedication, Boswell said. Schuck said Cassiani had a way of talking directly to community members and employers that engendered confidence.
Cassiani enjoyed organizing fundraising golf tournaments for the EDC; while he loved the sport, he wanted to create the best experience for participants, Boswell said.
Cassiani's family also was a passion. He's survived by his wife of 45 years, Erena; they enjoyed, golf travel and social gatherings together. Cassiani also is survived by daughters Maria and Gina, and four grandchildren.
A mass will take place at 11 a.m. April 28 at St. Paul Catholic Church, 9 El Pomar Road in Colorado Springs. Memorial contributions may be made to the Colorado Springs Abode Hospice, 1980 Dominion Way, Suite 101, Colorado Springs, 80918.